At a grocery store, a six-year old child points his fingers at a fat cashier, and smiles. “That fat lady has a pretty necklace!”, he says. The kid’s mother turns beet red and shushes him: “That is NOT a nice thing to say, honey!”.
The kid is confused.
I’d be confused too. He just gave fat lady a compliment, and been reprimanded for it. The lady IS fat. Her necklace IS pretty.
Herein lies our conflicted relationship with the word “fat”. And this child has just received a lesson, perhaps, first of many, in that fat is bad, fat is evil, fat is oh-so-much-more than a descriptor.
One of my current clients has described that relationship better than I ever could, so I was delighted when she agreed to share this post with you.
Without further adieu…
ON COMPLIMENTS, STUFF-NESS, AND CULTIVATING A BIKINI MIND
I had an interesting discussion with my coworker the other day. The weather’s been pretty warm the last few weeks, and the conversation migrated to summer plans. Someone in the room made a comment about needing to lose weight for bikini season.
HIM: “NO! Every body is a bikini body!” *pause* “Arg. I hate the word fat. It ought to be wiped off the planet.”
ME (who had stayed well out of the discussion until this moment): “Oh, why?”
HIM: “It’s such a hateful word.”
ME: “But it’s just a descriptor.”
HIM: “I know, but…people are so awful about it. My friend uses the word juicy instead. I think that’s better.”
This conversation and its friends keeps swooping at me like nesting crows.
I’ve been losing weight. A large amount, relative to general human standards.
I say that like it’s newsworthy. If we are internet friends it’s irrelevant and if we are real life friends you already know because I am not invisible. So not a thing. But.
People keep pulling me aside, and in hushed voices, offering commentary about this state change. I know that complimenting people over weight loss is a culturally accepted form of bonding. I get it. And every single time, I trip on the awkwardness and fall flat on my metaphorical face.
I have stuff about this. Most of my life, I have been fat. I summarily solved the issue of being in a fat body by just going about pretending not to have one. I got very good at it. In fact, I elevated this practice to an art form. Strangers pretty much don’t talk to me in public, because my personal space bubble of duct tape and rabies wills them not to. In this context, you would think that losing weight would be a good thing.
But then I have stuff about the word fat, and all of the meanings that get stuck to it. It is just a word. It is a valid descriptor of appearance, like tall or blonde or shiny. And yet, if an alien species invaded our planet tomorrow, they could be forgiven for thinking that we believe the greatest moral failing of our species is to be fat. I want to insist with all of my volume on the wrongness of that belief.
And then I have stuff about feminism. More and more I am coming to recognize what much cleverer women have always known, which is that the governance and sovereignty of the female body is political. The fact that I sincerely believed until a week ago that it would be disgusting for me to leave the house wearing a tank top and leggings while fat is not incidental. And the fact that it has taken a whole lot of time and a whole lot of resources to even see this thought is indicative of much more than a lack of personal self awareness.
So hearing “You’re melting away!” isn’t a thing that I can swallow straight as a compliment. I am very happy with my efforts and the results. But I also want to shout from the rooftops that this is not a thing to be valued.
The stuff parade continues with the fear of setbacks. Because I’ve lost this much weight before. And gained it all right back again. And of-course-this-time-is-different but gosh, doesn’t it suck to hear someone compliment you on your haircut by saying, “It looks great! So much better than before!”?
I am not a fan of announcing projects before they’re done. I would prefer to present the fait accompli, to have written the conclusion and signed the contract before even a wisp of the plot escapes. It hearkens back to that whole asking for help business, and generally, I’ll pass.
But it doesn’t really work that way. Whatever incredible transformation is taking place in my head, what you see is what is happening to my body. And it is visible, whether I like it or not.
I could sell you the line that I’m just working on my health and self acceptance, and that shrinking is an incidental, irrelevant side effect. And that would be some very excellent, refined, grade A bullshit served up with a very short spoon. The fact that weight loss is culturally collectively canonized as a noble endeavour is heartbreaking, but I am not immune.
In case my stuff wasn’t already enough to populate this party, you invited all your stuff buddies to come too. On the few occasions where I’ve remained present enough to notice, I can hear it barge into the conversation within the first sentence. “You’re shrinking!” “Don’t go too far or you’ll get that gaunt look!” “Keep up the good work!” “You look so much healthier!”
Not about me in the slightest. All your stuff.
I have seriously googled “alternate but still impactful synonyms to the word bullshit” eight times since starting to write this, because I think it’s offensive to swear if you’re going to be boring about it. But I am going to have to repeat myself because no other word will do.
All of this is bullshit. I want to call you out on it. To call myself on it. To tell us shame on us for lending this credence. I want to scold us. To say NO, we are not endorsing this. We are not voting for it in the election, and we are not introducing it to our family. It is VERY BAD NEWS.
And I want to hug us too, because it is so crushing to watch us bully ourselves for the “sins” of our bodies. And I want us all to cuddle up in a cozy room on soft pillows and have a kind grown up read us books that teach us how to tell ourselves better stories about our value.
I wanted to wait to write these things until after I had reached a resolution. I wanted to be the after picture, the happy ending tied up nicely in a soft little kitten bow. Wait until I had reached my “goal weight” then give you a tidy summary. Bullshit, heark. That is the thought equivalent of the beach body. Refusing to talk about things until they are perfect is precisely the reason we are stuck in stuff-ness. That too is the unrealistic ideal.
I am learning some incredible things.
I don’t know how to talk about this gracefully, but I do know that I want to tell you stories about what I value. I want to talk about having a body. I want to share with you all the brilliant wisdom I have gained about discipline and kindness and gratitude and strength and the value of having good teachers and the medicinal properties of cat videos, all on the incidental quest of losing weight.
Never mind a bikini body. I’m cultivating a bikini mind.
If you want to, compliment me on that.
I want to. And your bikini mind is HOTTTT.
Thank you, Irascible Artiodactyl. I know there is more where that came from.