I’m trying to lose weight.
I know, I know. I ate fifty chicken nuggets this weekend. The messed up part of that is that it didn’t put me over my Weight Watcher’s points for the week.
As a person who’s looked to for fat positive viewpoints, I feel like a bit of a traitor. At the very least I feel like a hypocrite. Once you come out and you say “I’m here and I’m fat and I like myself,” you take on the mantle of representing body positivity 24/7, whether you want to or not. If you’ve just begun your journey, or you’re comfortable with yourself and your fatness, or if you struggle with your self-esteem as it relates to weight, it doesn’t matter. The moment you step into a place of visibility, people feel your fatness no longer belongs to you. It’s owned by others, and they’re going to use it to represent their social viewpoint.
I recently saw a post on Tumblr where there was a quote from Rebel Wilson, saying that she had been “good” on her diet. “Good” meaning that she was sticking to her diet and losing or maintaining her weight, as opposed to not dieting and not exercising, which would be “bad”. There’s no denying that classifying behaviors associated with weight gain as “bad” while granting the behaviors we associate with weight loss or fitness, “good” in a moral sense is harmful and unproductive to people’s self-esteem. One commenter was absolutely outraged to see that Wilson had used “good” in this context. Others deemed Wilson problematic on this issue and lamented that there would never be a celebrity who is comfortable in their own fat skin.
In other words, Wilson dared to not be the perfect fatty, and in doing so was letting down people to whom she had absolutely no responsibility. Now, if her comment bothers you to the point that you didn’t want to buy clothes from her new plus size line…well that’s an understandable reaction. No one has to buy Wilson’s clothes, but why should she be vehemently criticized for using what is common, if harmful, language that’s impressed upon women in Western cultures from the moment we gain a single unwanted pound? Fatphobic language subtly brainwashes us. It’s not a conscious choice to use these words and phrases. For many people it’s an automatic response, even if we’re aware of why our words are harmful (More than once I’ve caught myself saying that I was “really good today” about my eating habits). So why is it unforgivable? Why is the response to these instances hostility instead of sadness?
Rebel Wilson works in industry where her entire livelihood depends on her appearance. if Wilson did not rock the stereotypical feminine look, if she didn’t have long hair or cute bangs or false eyelashes, if there wasn’t some indication that she’s striving to glam up, she would have no job. Further, and directly related to her “good” diet comment, fat actresses are required to talk about how much they exercise, how much they eat, how “good” they’re being. They, like all fat people, must justify their fatness to strangers, just as thin celebrities have to claim to eat McDonald’s or pizza for every meal. This is no different than what any woman in any field faces; you’re more “professional” if you wear makeup and a traditionally feminine look. If you don’t adhere to these conventions, you might not have a job. Is it really reasonable to demand that Rebel Wilson risk her job, her livelihood, to combat an unfair system that’s actively oppressing her and forcing her to conform in order to succeed in the first place?
None of those things apply to my weight loss motivation (of which I remain uncertain). I fear that my desire to lose weight will be interpreted as a betrayal of fat people, as a betrayal of body positivity. I’m not dieting and exercising to stay healthy; I’m already pretty healthy, with regards to heath issues traditionally (if incorrectly) associated with obesity. I’m not losing weight because I think I’ll gain some career advantage; nobody sees me doing my job, anyway, and writing about my fatness has been a huge part of my career. I’m losing weight to change my body, but I don’t hate myself, and I’m not doing it out of some newfound feeling of “truly” loving myself enough to diet. I’m viewing this attempt at weight loss as a matter of appearance alone, no different than getting a new tattoo. Maybe i’m buying into antifeminist standards of beauty. Maybe I’m bowing to peer pressure. All I know is, this time, deciding to lose weight feels different. I’ve dieted out of despair before. I’ve dieted out of self-hatred. I know what those feel like, and they don’t feel the way I feel now. I’m comfortable with my body, I’ll be comfortable if I don’t lose weight and I’ll be comfortable if I do lose weight.
At the same time, I’m not sure I’ll handle any potential backlash with grace. Despite how open I am about fat oppression and how vocally I oppose fat hate, my weight can sometimes be a sensitive subject–not because I hate myself, but because I hate it when people disrespect me because of my weight or presume to know how I feel about it. And that goes for both fat haters and fat people who view every fat body as a platform for their own body politics.
I would ultimately love to live in a society where appearance wasn’t commented on. A place where we’re not judged by how we look. But we don’t live in that society. It’s great that there are people out there who are able to remove those harmful influences from their lives. It’s maddening that if you’re not striving for thinness or hyper femininity, if you’re not worshipping in the cult of the bikini bridge and the thigh gap, you’re automatically labelled as self-hating. I love it when women realize that it’s not a sin to love yourself as you are, or that it’s not unhealthy to have any good feelings about yourself. But not everybody can feel that way, and that’s because of those societal pressures from which none of us are spared. We can ask them to listen intently and watch their own words, and we can scorn people who refuse time and again to do either of these things. But we’re exerting a new kind of pressure on women, to force their experience of fatness into a mold, and to stifle their emotional honesty in favor of willing the problem to fix itself.
Fat hate does not exist because women are being fat incorrectly. Fat hate does not exist because a Hollywood actress (or underrated blogging genius) does or says something that contradicts a certain ideology. Rebel Wilson’s comment wasn’t a judgement against you, just like my weight loss is not my judgement against fat women. I sincerely hope everyone can respect that, just like I’ll continue to respect women of all body types equally, despite any changes I might make to my own.