I need to get back to my gluten-free diet; the insomnia is getting bad. It might help with my hair, too (though I still intend to do terrible things to it like go blonde. Hee! Fun with hair!). Yes, it tends to make me lose weight and stabilize at the lower end of my weight range, but that's the last thing on my mind. I'm feeling good about myself, and Bob agrees.
And feeling good about oneself at any size is important; fifty years of fat shaming has not made the country any slimmer, so you'd think they'd give up, but mention the idea that fat people should feel good about themselves, and it's like you farted in church. Everyone makes this horrible face at the very idea that fatty-fat-fat-faces should dare feel good about themselves! After all, what you weigh is the only measure of your worth, right?
My eyes, they roll so far back in my head, I can see my pituitary gland. (It says hi, by the way.)
I think it's a good idea to help kids be healthy - but "obesity" is not one of the criteria for poor health. Activity level, stamina, muscle tone, happiness, maximizing your abilities, whatever level they may be ('cause let's be honest, the rhetoric around exercise is profoundly ableist, shutting out everyone with disabilities), and feeling good about yourself - that's healthy. Fat ain't got nothin' to do with it.
So when Michelle Obama launched the Let's Move campaign, on the surface it seemed like a good thing. Getting kids to be outside more, encouraging fun games and activities, promoting fruits and vegetables, trying to eliminate "food deserts" in inner cities (where grocery stores are not within walking distance, and good produce is scarce and expensive, throwing a double whammy at the poorest members of society, who certainly can't afford to shop at Whole Foods or Trader Joes).
But when she uses her own daughters as an example of the "obesity epidemic" in kids, I go off the rails, off the reservation, and off my nut. Fuck, that's cruel - telling people your own daughters were too fat, so you put them on a diet? Caving to your fat-phobic paediatrician? Saying that the problem is fat, not health? Oh, Mrs. First Lady, how could you?
Here's a tip: Pre-pubescent girls who are about to hit puberty often gain weight. It's their body's way of storing supplies against the massive energy-drain that the physical changes of puberty put the body through. Boys gain weight too - then they will get taller and more muscular, and girls will then get taller and grow breasts and hips. This uses tremendous resources - fat stores are essential to this process so that the body does not cannibalize other things, like organs or bones* for the job. Their brains grow too - there are profound changes that happen to the brain at puberty, and fat is essential to proper brain function. Fat is essential to body function, or else there'd be no such thing as protein poisoning.
Children often go through a "chubby" phase. Most will grow out of it. Children are not all meant to be the same size, or even extremely skinny. People come in all sizes, just like they come in all heights. But fat-shaming children does not have the "positive" effect that society seems to think it does.
Let me tell you a story. Many of you will be familiar with this story, as you have lived it yourselves. For those of you that haven't, it's a sad story, but educational, so keep reading.
When I was a child, I was identified by my family as fat. I thought I was fat. between the ages of four and five, I went from not thinking about my size at all, to being convinced I was very fat, because everyone told me so. This is what I looked like at ages four and five:
Age four. Age five.
You can clearly see how much I porked out, can't you? :P
By that time, all my food choices were being policed; even if I wanted seconds because I was starving, I knew better than to ask. I started sneaking and hiding my food intake - since my sister and I did the dishes when we stayed at my grandmother's house, I learned to eat the leftover food off the plates when no-one was looking. The biggest thing I remember from those years is being hungry. Of course, since I wasn't allowed to eat what I wanted at the table, the foods I sneaked were not as nutritious - they had to be quick to grab, and concealable, like crackers, chips, or candy. I was obsessed with food, because I was never allowed to eat as much as I wanted.
This is the point at which I think I became eating disordered.
All the people around me got in on the food policing and shaming - to this day, I remember being mocked for even looking at food. The constant message from everyone around me was that I was fat, and something needed to be done about it. By age seven, I was sure I was huge.
Clearly, I was enormous, a drag on society, so horrifying to look at that I should have hidden in an attic and spared the world my hideous bulk.
All this time, my sister was a picky eater - she ate almost nothing, and it was always a great struggle to get her to eat (she's learning disabled, due to a brain injury incurred when she was very young, and that's all I'm going to reveal about her, because I don't want to violate her privacy). She would eat for me, so I was sometimes able to get her to eat a little more, but she genuinely didn't like the taste of most food, so she was very, very underweight for a 12 year old. Of course, this served as even more contrast for me - I was constantly told that I should look more like my sister, because being underweight and matching society's beauty ideals (for children!) is much healthier than being a little chubby. So, by age 11, I thought I was massive:
My sister is a year older than me, but since she was so underweight, she looked a couple of years younger. I am clearly the biggest porker around, and how dare I wear a swimsuit.
I hit puberty at 11, too - this is what a girl about to undergo massive body changes looks like. But since society (I went through this in the 1970s, and it's only gotten worse) is deeply anti-fat, the idea that a girl too young to even think about sex (well, I was, anyway) should conform to the adult male idea of attractiveness** meant that the body police went into overdrive.
When you're fat shamed, you hate physical activities. When people tell you you're ugly and they don't want to look at your fat, you shy away from sports. When they then turn around and shame you for being "lazy" and not exercising, you die inside a little. It takes a strong sense of self-worth to tell those people to go fuck themselves, and thanks to the fat shaming and hate, most fat teenagers have no self-esteem at all. When concern trolls tell me they're just trying to "help" by engaging in fathate, I know they're lying two-faced hypocrites who get off on being superior, but when I was a teenager, I wasn't so strong, and I just felt like shit. I used to climb mountains (short ones, but still). I could walk for hours, I was active, I loved swimming in the sea, climbing all over rocks, and playing outside all I could. I lived next to a park, and it was nothing to me to walk over a mile to feed the ducks. I was incredibly active, but I was still "chubby", because my body was growing. As a teenager, I learned to hate physical activity, because it came with a massive dose of fat-shaming. Good job, school systems in both the UK and the US.
Fat shaming is a lose-lose proposition for fat people, and that's the way society likes it. Don't be under any illusion that society has your best interests at heart; they want you to be so ashamed of yourself that you disappear. Hounding a teenager to suicide (trigger warning) over her size is more in their line of business. The dehumanization of fat people is condoned and even encouraged by shows like The Biggest Loser, who employs a trainer that hurls disgusting abuse at the people she is supposed to be helping. This is entertainment, folks!
Do you know what happens when everyone around you tells you you're fat every day, every hour? You believe them, and you try to conform to their ideas of what you should look like and what you should eat, thereby completely destroying your internal hunger cues. By the time I was a teenager, I had no idea what hungry was. All I knew was that when presented with an opportunity to eat, I had to get as much in as possible before someone stopped me. Binge eating is probably very common amongst fat children who have been fat-shamed all their lives; it was certainly a natural progression for me. Hunger is a natural function, but we fatties cannot be allowed to satisfy it, even with vegetables; the damaging idea that calories in always equals calories out, and that nothing else has any effect on our weight means that people police everything we put in our mouths, even things like fruit, lean meat, and vegetables.
Do you know what happens then? Since all food is forbidden, then there's no point in trying. We may as well eat the stuff that tastes really good, since it's not like we're going to be treated any different. When the body is not allowed to follow its natural rhythm, then it becomes screwed up. Starving "fat" children and not allowing them to eat when they're hungry causes metabolism changes, since the body flips into starvation mode, especially in young humans, for whom sufficient food is essential.
Starving your children sets them up to be fat later. Starving your children affects their brain function, alters their growth, and breaks their metabolism. I firmly believe that starvation in childhood (which can be triggered by a calorie deficit of as little as 500 calories) has lifelong damage in a way that overeating does not. I also believe that early starvation leads to serious health problems. It causes disordered eating, food hoarding, secretive eating, and bingeing.
By 17, I was as tall as I was ever going to be, and weighed 175lbs. I was so convinced I was the fattest person in school. My mother kept trying to put me in shapeless clothes that made me look even more monolithic. I went to prom in a size 14 dress, convinced I was horrific:
Small pic; sorry. But aren't I gross? I look so massive in that dress, I'm surprised they let me in to the prom! I probably scared the other kids!
I gained more weight in my first marriage, and by then, it was definitely a case of calories in, because I binge ate almost every day. I'd try to diet, because by then the fat-shaming was deeply internalized, but starving all day then bingeing at night is not exactly healthy. I would make a meal out of a family size bag of chips, a tub of dip, and a box of Andes mints for dessert. I wasn't working - I didn't even have a car - and though I exercised every day, my then-husband mocked me for trying, and I didn't lose any weight.
I was disgusted with myself. I believed everything people had fed me about how ugly and gross and smelly and stupid and repulsive and unsexy and dirty and sweaty and graceless and uncontrolled and undisciplined fat people are. I hated and shamed myself far more effectively than anyone else could, but that didn't stop people from trying. By age 21, I weighed 200lbs:
And I had no health problems. I was not on medication that caused weight gain, I was free of any condition that would make me gain weight. I was fat because I had never been allowed to trust or love my body and its needs. I was one of the few people that genuinely gained weight because they ate too much. And I ate too much because I was never allowed to fill my hunger. I was never told I looked fine just the way I was. I ate to fill the gaping void that should have been filled with self-esteem.
Then I met Bob.
Bob loved me just the way I was. When I decided to use a commercial diet program, Bob made it easy for me, because he wanted me to be happy with myself. He encouraged me every step of the way, while making absolutely sure that I knew that he thought I was beautiful and worthwhile no matter what I weighed. He never once policed me. Without his support and love, I doubt I'd have been able to make it through two years of weight loss. All my previous experience was that I could not lose weight. All my previous experience of diets was everyone around me policing what I ate, which threw me right back into the panic of childhood. Bob made it clear that it wasn't my size that mattered; it was me, and me was wonderful and deserving of love at any size.
I'm 40 years old. I've maintained a 60lb weight loss for over 15 years now. I am one of the lucky freaks that don't have lasting medical problems from early starvation. I have only briefly been on a medication that caused uncontrollable weight gain. I don't have diabetes or PCOS, or thyroid problems, or pituitary problems, or depression, or mobility issues that prevent me from being active. I am an outlier, the exception that proves the rule. Because If I could do it when so many can't, including my husband, then it is because I am the freak, not them. And it does not mean that anyone who cannot lose weight is a failure.
And I am still "overweight" according to the BMI charts. I am at a very healthy weight for me, but society still considers me fat.
Who is the wrong one - me, or the fat-phobic culture that thinks this is fat:
You tell me.
And First Lady Michelle Obama? Leave your kids out of your "health" project. Don't do to them what was done to me; you'll regret it.
Take it from a survivor of fat hate; shaming doesn't work. Love at every size.
Note: I should point out that I don't blame my mother for any of this; she was honestly trying to protect me. Who do I blame? A cultural narrative that says there is only one acceptable size for women, and one for men, and that even babies need to be kept thin. The narrative that says fat people are public property, and that it is acceptable to be foully rude and hateful towards them with a clear conscience. The narrative that says abuse is fine as long as it's cloaked in "it's for your own good".
That's some pretty sick stuff, and it's amazing that any of us make it through with any sanity about our size. I love my mother, she's a truly amazing person.
* Studies show that women who have been underweight all their lives have a much greater chance of developing osteoporosis in later years. Your body will leach not just calcium, but the fat that helps your bones utilize that calcium, from your skeleton if you don't give it enough food. Be kind to your bones - eat a cupcake!
**And how fucking creepy is that?!!