Thursday, July 14, 2011

How I ditched my self-loathing about fat...

A conversation I've been having with some people on Twitter today has inspired me to write this post.

I'm fat. I'm 163cm (about 5'3") tall and weigh - let me just check - 106.8kg (236.5 lbs) in light clothing. That makes me about a size 20 in Australian sizes.

I've always carried a little extra weight. I've never been "skinny". I remember mum had me put on a diet when I was ten and living at a boarding school which served desert every night (I'd put on a few extra kilos and was heading from rounded to rotund) - we didn't often eat desert at home. I guess that was the first time I thought of my body as being wrong. I don't blame mum for that - society informs parents what to be concerned about and society has long stated that anything more than a little fat on the body is always a bad thing - no matter how nutritious your diet is, or how active you are.

By the time I was 12, I'd decided I as a fat, ugly beast who needed to torture herself for her own weakness by starving herself for half a day, then bingeing on whatever she could find for other half of the day (that habit stays with me to this day).

We lived at a college for a while during my middle teen years, and they had a large kitchen with a walk in fridge. That fridge was always filled with all sorts of good things left over from the meals of the day. I would gorge myself on large metal bowls of strawberry jam (picking the strawberries out piece by piece to eat), among other things.

I was always on a diet, sometimes they "succeed" for a while, mostly they didn't - certainly never long term. I idolised anorexics. I thought bulimics were gross, but did give bulimia a go, too. Bulimia didn't work for me, I couldn't make myself throw up, as much as I tried. I collected newspaper and magasine articles about anorexics and watched every single show or documentary I could about them. Once I discovered the internet, I visited pro-ana sites and made plans to try all the tricks I read about. I thought these girls (they were mostly girls) were amazingly dedicated and focused, and brave - even though I thought many of them looked quite repulsive in their photos. Of course, I was never an anorexic, just a fat, ugly wannabe.

I grew into adulthood loathing my body.

I never had a shortage of boyfriends though. As much as I thought I was unattractive, there was always someone else who thought I was attractive enough.

Eventually, I married and I had babies. Four of them. The whole time loathing my body. Babies led to stretch marks and droopy boobs (these are the side effects of pregnancy, not breastfeeding, by the way). I hated my body more.

After my third baby, I decided enough was enough, and I started exercising and put myself on a very restrictive diet (as the year progressed, my diet progressively got stricter). I lost 32kg. People complimented me, and I did feel good about myself on one level. On another level something else happened. The more weight I lost, the more I started to criticise my own progress and I started to feel a low panic in my mind that I'd have to maintain this new slimmer me. I hated how my stretchmarks were now a wrinkly pouch of skin on my abdomen. I felt gross touching that skin. I carried it around with me like a dirty secret - my scrotum-skin tummy.

Every day I hated my body. I thought about how much fat I was eating, how much sugar, how many calories. Every day I calculated how much exercise I would need to do to burn enough energy to lose another kilo and get closer to the next size down in jeans. Every day I stopped in front of the mirror many, many times to see if I looked thinner or fatter than the last time.

It was exhausting!

I got a phone call from my dad one day late that year, and in that conversation - without having seen me for 18 months - he said to me, "Fat mums raise fat children". The night he said that, I was a size 12. I had never been a size 12 in all of my adult life. He had never seen me as a size 12. What's more, my older boys - who were 7 and 5 at the time, were skinny, both of them were well under the average weight for children their age (they have always been average height, and well below average weight since toddlerhood). I felt angry. I felt resentful that I had been working my butt off - literally - all year and still I was going to be judged as a neglectful parent if I was even a few kilos overweight.

That was probably the first spark of me ditching the self-loathing - but still it didn't happen fully until about 4 years later.

After 2006, I struggled to maintain my new smaller size, and eventually I started to put the weight back on. There is no secret to how the weight went back on. Basically, I was working on my Masters, and I had another baby, and then we had a few upsets at home with FIL dying and the Grumpy Old man losing his job, and then having to move and money struggles and so on. I simply prioritised eating less junk and doing more exercise very low on the list.

As late as late last year, I still pretty much loathed my body. I resented not being able to dress in clothing that was flattering, comfortable and stylish (in the styles I liked). I still thought I was weak and useless - something I based entirely on my ability to lose a kilo in a week.

But I was tired of feeling bad. I was tired of feeling that I SHOULD feel bad. I started to do some reckoning.

Was I weak? How could I think I was weak? I am legally blind and am raising four children on a very low income. I single-handedly manage all the finances in this house - I am responsible for it all. I have complete three degrees and a certificate III - two of those degrees were by correspondence (that means I had to be a self-starter). I've traveled overseas completely on my own, arranging everything myself. I'm pretty handy with a screwdriver and a flat pack - even assembling bicycles. I can walk many kilometres a day, if I chose to. I can swim for hours without stopping, if I choose to.  No, I'm not weak, unless the only sign of strength is to be a size 8.

My body has grown and birthed four other human beings and then nourished them for 12 years (16 years consecutively). That is not weak.

Fabulous, fat me!
The more I thought about, the more I resented being judged on my ability to fit into certain sizes of clothing. I am so much more than my weight, or girth.

I refuse to loathe my body anymore. I love it. I started to adorn it with art because I love my body now. It is strong and beautiful. I don't want to hide it under unshapely clothing. I want to celebrate it. As much as I hated it and mistreated it over the years, it has always done its best for me.

I've heard all the "it's bad for your health" arguments, maybe it is, so is smoking, so is drinking, so is unprotected sex - where are the hashtags for people who have unprotected sex? Smokers aren't stigmatised nearly as much as fat people. People who drink alcohol aren't stigmatised - and yet people who don't drink alsohol are! Quite frankly, stigmatising people is a crock! There are many slim people out there dying from diabetes, heart disease, malnutrition, and all the other diseases associated with being "overweight" (overweight is, by the way, an arbitrary calculation of what weight a "normal, healthy" human should be - how can the ideal human weight be calculated other than by "the norm", which hasn't changed in 100 years even the though the majority of humans on the planet don't fit into, being either over or underweight according to the "normal, healthy range").

So, that's how I ditched my self-loathing about fat. You may be glad you're not as fat as me. I'm glad I have my body, it's been awesome to me this lifetime!


Anonymous said...

Self appreciation is such a funny thing. I don't see a person's size, I see who they are, what they have achieved and how they treat others. I remember in my late teens, my younger sister who had always been bigger than me, was complaining about her weight. I told her size didn't matter. She had a healthy body that did what she needed it to, she was intelligent, and loved by those close to her. I was horrified after returning from overseas to see how much weight she had lost. She is beautiful, both inside and out, and I tried to explain that to her.
On the flipside, I have always been small. Apart from when pregnant, I usually sit around a size 8 - 10. When I was a teen, Dad used to joke that I had to run around the shower to get wet.
As much as I don't care what size anyone else is, I judge myself on my size, even now. I know I should appreciate what my body can do, what I can do, but there is always a little voice in my head saying "if only you lost a few more kilos, you would look much better and feel so much happier".
Loving your body is easier said than done, but I am so so glad that you do.

Sif Dal said...

Part of what helped me with ditching the self-loathing was realising how much I didn't view other fat people as ugly. In fact, I used to think - I wouldn't mind being so fat if I was a beautiful as her (insert some woman who was carrying extra kilos who I thought looked great!). Eventually, I realised I didn't think fat was ugly on anyone except ME!

Lifeasmummymax said...

I think you are amazingly awesome. I have had such a body image problem since being a teen i was always underweight so much that i was bullied and judged for it. Then i got really sick after i left school and put on over 20 kilos. I never really lost it then i had 3 kids and put on more. My body has changed so much and i think im slowly becomeing at peace with that. There are so many people out there these days making us feel bad about our bodies all shapes and sizes. I wish i could appreciate my body as you do yours. I love your outfit by the way. :) I wrote a comment on how i couldnt crash diet because it wouldnt work for me and my now ex friend and her husband took offense to it and "defriended" me. If only more people had your outlook. Everyone has issues of some kind with their weight or size. I may judge myself on how i look and what size i am but i can honestly say i have never judged based on size or weight. Great post xoxo

Sif Dal said...

Thank you Jocelyn - my dress is from, I have no affiliation with them, but I do LOVE their clothes!

It is a threatening idea to a lot of people that fat people might actually not hate themselves for being fat. That self-loathing mindset is truly very deeply ingrained. For me it took until I was almost 38 to question my own view of myself and what I was basing that self-loathing on.

Also, people are praised so richly for losing weight, it feels really good, it hard not to want that recognition for the huge sacrefice of NOT EATING! It's quite insidious when you think about how much people are rewarded for being ashamed - I used to love to watch the biggest Loser but couldn't watch the last season of it because suddenly I saw how degrading it really was. The fat people being judged (at least at first) on their appearance and by the end of the season they're being told, "See, there was a beautiful, strong person under the fat, you just had to set him or her free" WTF is that - does my fat suppress my beauty and strength? Can I only be beautiful and strong if I risk physical injury and abuse myself mentally?

Anyway, a lot of people rely on the ideal of thin to provide them with kudos and admiration if they decide to "be strong and eat a salad for lunch". I can eat a salad now without it being loaded with all the emotional promise of respect from others - I can eat it because I want to*, not to prove something to anyone, including myself!

*you won't catch me eating a lot of salads this time of year, but I love them in summer!

Unknown said...

Hello. I found your blog through We heart life website and their 2012 I heart my body campaign. I found your story to be so moving. I'm so glad that you have come to love your body. I love your post for this year's campaign. Even more so now I have read this older post and learnt about the struggle you have been through to get here. Well done. You are amazing!

Good Job!