“Wow… you’re really growing!”
“You’re a big strong girl!”
“You’re becoming a woman so quickly!”
“You should watch what you eat.”
“It’s time to start dieting.”
“Your stretch marks look terrible.”
“You shouldn’t wear that.”
“You need to do some exercise.”
“You’re going to die young.”
This is the transgression of fatphobia over the past 24 years of my life. And I know I’m not alone; fatphobia is a pervasive form of violence against people’s bodies that often manifests in feigned concern for one’s health.
I’m a size 18 (I think… it varies because shops are rubbish and sizing is nonsense). I experience some privilege in that in occasional settings my curves are scripted into ‘sexiness’ through a lens of exotification and fetishization. Yet there is still an overwhelming amount of ‘concern’ that spews from the lips of people that care about me. I understand that when we have been consistently fed incorrect information about BMI or obesity, we view fatness as an illness or condition. We are inundated with information about what we should do with our bodies. We must think of fatphobia in the same way that we think of racism or homophobia; a systemic form of oppression that is embedded in all institutions we access. This means that healthcare professionals, while usually working in our best interest, are still complicit in absorbing and spreading fatphobic misinformation. For the rest of us, who view (typically) white men in white coats as knowledgeable, responsible and capable, we don’t bother to unpack or problematize this information. None of this is new information, but it is always worth hammering home. Fat and body-positive activists have torn down the fallacy of fatphobic health-scares countless times. Yet, when our family and friends want us to live long and happy lives, they repeat this fatphobic information in a myriad of different ways. Grappling with radical self-love and while respecting the care that our loved ones have for us presents a complicated inner turmoil.
You’re going to die young.
I think a lot about the scripting of certain bodies into death. I think about how so many systems and institutions preserve some lives and fold others into an inevitable demise. I think about the predominantly Black neighborhood I grew up and how so little funding went into protecting children and decent healthcare. I think about how we are fed information that makes us believe law enforcement is here to protect us… yet simultaneously we watch Black bodies bleed out in the streets. I think about the pervasive violence against womxn and femmes and the continual denial of their stories. I think about queer and trans folks who continue to experience pain and trauma and murder.
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While I have lived a largely safe and comfortable life, the intersections of my identity as a fat, Black/mixed, queer, non-binary femme place me undeniably into the category of ‘those who should not live.’ As Audre Lorde puts it, “we were never meant to survive”. Society was created with our bodies as tools of labor, as non-human, as disposable. There is no assurance for people like me that we will be protected or even that we will be honored in death. Rather, we live in the knowledge that if we die of old age, it will be purely luck.
“You’re going to die young.”
Finally, I think about depression.
When I think about dying, I wonder how I’ve even made it this far. As someone who lives with depression, each year that I age and reach new milestones come as a surprise to me. To make it through each day, is a fight for survival. In Canada, where I live, 33% of LGBTQ youth have attempted suicide and over half have considered it. When I think about dying, the overwhelming possibility of being overcome by a sense of worthlessness, feelings of despair and a desire to give up entirely, far outweigh the possibility of any supposed weight-related illness.
Fatphobia not only perpetuates the idea that physical health is more important than mental health, it actually contributes to the worsening of self-esteem and mental well-being. Somehow, when it comes to healthy eating and doing exercise, everyone is suddenly an expert. Friends, family, peers and even strangers like to weigh in on what are the ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ choices to make about our bodies. Yet, when mental health is concerned, few bother to take the necessary steps to educate themselves about being supportive to those who experience depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and so on. A fit body is posited as the solution to health, happiness and success while fatness is the antithesis. This erases the inner turmoil and often invisible struggle of mental health.
More Radical Reads: Fatphobia101: Six Tools To Dismantle Weight Stigma
People are critical of what I eat and how that will impact my health yet simultaneously disapproving of my use of antidepressants. This contributes to the denial of mental health and the misconception that things like depression don’t require thorough medical treatment like physical ailments might. So far in my life, self-care, self-love and self-acceptance have gotten me a lot further than kale salad. Finding communities of fat femmes of color and radical queer and trans folks has improved my mental health exponentially to the point where I have not experienced suicidal ideation in a long while. Perhaps I don’t go to the gym regularly and maybe I eat a lot of fries, but trust me, I am already doing the things I need to do to stay alive.
[Featured Image: Individual with black curly hair is pictured holding utensil with a stern look on their face. Pexels.com