Content Notice for Ableist Insult, Body Image and Discussion of Weight
After getting my body fat hydrostatically measured, I made the decision to stop obsessing over every little weight fluctuation and no longer use a scale. It’s been quite a boon to my sense of well-being to not start almost every day in tears over a few ounces gained or in fearful, tentative victory over a few ounces lost.
Of course, what would talking about a self-care victory be without a well-meaning person telling me that I’m not fat and shouldn’t care about it?
A lot of people had Thoughts and Feelings about the “So Did the Fat Lady” episode of Louie. Here’s the part that made me fist-pump the air and exclaim “yes!”.
You know what the meanest thing is you can say to a fat girl? “You’re not fat.” I mean, come on, buddy. It just sucks. It really really sucks. You have no idea. And the worst part is, I’m not even supposed to do this. Tell anyone how bad it sucks, because it’s too much for people. I mean, you, you can talk into the microphone and say you can’t get a date, you’re overweight. It’s adorable. But if I say it, they call the suicide hotline on me. I mean, can I just say it? I’m fat. It sucks to be a fat girl. Can people just let me say it? It sucks. It really sucks. And I’m going to go ahead and say it. It’s your fault.
Look, I really like you, you’re truly a good guy, I think. I’m so sorry. I’m picking you. On behalf of all the fat girls, I’m making you represent all the guys. Why do you hate us so much? What is is about the basics of human happiness, feeling attractive, feeling loved, having guys chase after us, that’s just not in the cards for us? Nope. Not for us. How is that fair? And why am I supposed to just accept it?
All of that was nothing that I didn’t already know. Scrutinizing the results with the theme of the week in mind, however, I noticed something that I hadn’t before. Whenever I mentioned the steps I was taking towards weight loss, the most common response accused me of being “lazy” for low-carbing and told me to exercise rather than “take shortcuts.”
Obviously, low-carbing and exercising aren’t mutually exclusive. For the record, I do both, thank you very much, and low-carbing has hardly been a “lazy shortcut” for me. That aside, what struck me is that if you strip away the naked scorn from what those types say, they echo what I, as a fat cis woman, have heard from many thin and/or formerly fat cis men (and at least a few of the fat ones). It starts with a “just,” continues into a “tip” that requires very little in the way of lifestyle modification, and ends with the assurance that the speaker lost [insert a number that sounds ridiculously high to me] pounds thanks to that small change.
In many cases, these men meant to be empathetic and helpful, not to leave me feeling frustrated and misunderstood. It is for those men that I write this, although I suspect that the more antagonistic types as well as formerly fat people of all genders might also benefit.
Plainly stated, weight loss is generally hard for women than it is for men. Gender affects weight loss both from a biological and societal perspective. Neither category of hindrance is wholly or at all avoidable for many women.
In terms of biology, anyone whose body’s hormonal balance is skewed towards the ratio of testosterone, estrogen, progesterone, and androgen usually found in cis women is generally going to have a harder time losing weight. Testosterone encourages muscle development; having more muscle means that your body is going to have a higher resting metabolic rate (RMR). Cis women and trans women on hormones tend to have less testosterone, meaning that their body fat percentage will usually be higher than that of cis men and trans men on hormones. Compounding the RMR issue is sexual dimorphism; as most cis men are simply taller and bigger overall than most cis women, they require more maintenance calories.
When a man tells me that I could just “burn it off” instead of dieting, that all I need to do is cut out [insert a single caloric food item here] to lose weight, and/or that “moderation” on their terms is preferable to my perceived “extreme,” he unwittingly erases my reality as well as the reality of countless other women. The difficult truth is that as a fat cis woman, I must change my diet in order to lose weight, period. Exercise alone might make me feel good and get me fitter and healthier, but without dietary changes to accompany it (in my case, reduced calorie and carb intake), it yields little to no weight loss. Based on the outcomes of several studies, this is true for more people than just me.
As is the case in most matters, projection does nothing to help and can even hurt, but a little empathy goes a long way. I really am happy for you if you’re a man for whom losing weight was as easy as not-pie. Just because skipping dessert was enough to lead you into skinny territory doesn’t mean that the same is true for everyone. Ignoring the factors that make it harder for so many of us is not only insensitive, it contributes to the culture of shame and stigma against fat that has been linked to weight gain.
While I do have a checkered past with the medical establishment, thankfully, about two years ago, I found much better doctors than any of my childhood ones. Sadly, I’ve been unable to find a less fat-hating world in which to live. For that reason, I’ve been restricting my caloric intake for eighteen months and, since January, have been low-carbing. So far, I’ve lost about thirty pounds. I’m not yet “healthy” (where “health” is a euphemism for “thinness”) in the eyes of society (especially here in Southern California) or according to the BMI (I’m still “diagnosed with obesity” every time I got to the doctor), but I’ve noticed some curious changes in my life.
Out in the world of dating and sex, men check me out less furtively than they used to — and sometimes even less-than-furtively. I find myself suddenly placed on a pedestal, with doors opened, chairs pulled, and obstacles pointed out for me. In terms of my weekly errands, store employees who used to ignore me now notice me and ask me if I need help. At the checkout aisle, they scrutinize the expiration date on my coupons and punch cards far less.
The most ridiculous example of this happened the last time I visited a GNC. The smiling, solicitous employee managed, through means I can only guess at, to ring up $50 worth of meal bars and only charge me $20. I walked out with a bag full of portable meals and a head filled with immense confusion (you’d think that far fitter, prettier women than me would visit a store like GNC, right?).
I don’t carry myself with more confidence than before, as I still am very much Southern California fat. I don’t dress better; indeed, I paid more attention to the details of my appearance when I was fatter (a coincidence based on time factors). I’m not much happier than I was before, since I’m now uncomfortably aware of my fat rather than resigned to it. The ugly truth is that people see the smaller me as someone deserving better treatment than the bigger me did.
The worst part is that, if asked about it, most people would probably deny it. People don’t like to consider the fact that human beings are prejudiced and act upon those prejudices without a second thought. We often don’t realize what we’re doing, let alone why. People don’t realize that they overlook fat women as much as they do, and so my life in the 180s is different from my life in the 210s.
I do not accept this new state of affairs with anything resembling gratitude or complacency. I cannot forget what I know: Fatter Heina was treated with scorn for no reason other than being bigger than Fat Heina, and she never deserved it. Whether I maintain, regain, or lose more of my weight, I deserve to be treated with common courtesy and decency, as does any other human being.
The trouble I find with talking about weight stigma is that, like many other forms of societal oppression, its very existence is nigh incessantly denied. There are those who believe that any kind of anti-fat behavior can be explained away by the poor attitude of the fat person in question despite all evidence to the contrary, evidence that points to spreading worldwide stigma. The denialism can go as far as to reject the fact that misused medical tools can be used to discriminate against fat women. Institutionalized, society-wide oppression doesn’t disappear because a fat person decides to, say, smile more and stand up straighter.
Another problem with talking about weight stigma is that thin women sometimes claim that they are as equally discriminated against for their body size. While women of all sizes no doubt have their bodies policed, fat women demonstrably face discrimination of the kind that thin women simply do not face, from the doctor’s office (no, really, there could be a reason besides fat that fat women experience poor health outcomes) to the courtroom (male jurors are more likely to hand a guilty verdict to fat women) to the office (overweight women are paid less). There are countless anecdotal lists containing examples of thin privilege at places such as Dances with Fat and Everyday Feminism. It’s not that fat women win some imaginary competition against thin women in the Oppression Olympics, it’s that we need to pay attention to the harmful ways in which they are discriminated against, ways that are particular to their body type and not simply a product of generalized misogyny.
It helps no one, least of all fat people, to enforce weight stigma. It’s about time we admitted that fat-shaming isn’t the same as encouraging health, cruelty doesn’t help people to become thinner, and thinness isn’t always the best course for all fat people.