[Image description: The photograph shows the author, a white woman in her 20s. In front of a fence, behind which are park trees and bushes, she is posing as if balancing on a tight rope. She has shoulder-length dark blonde hair]
For pretty much as long as I can remember, I have been the fat girl. Apart from a brief period when I was about five years old, I was always the most heavyset girl in my class – by a considerable margin. When I was seven, my mother and my nanny made me aware that my large size was a problem, and they put me on my first “official” diet. I got put on a few diets during the rest of my primary school years and they all sucked (some more than others). Thanks to a permanent cloud of hereditary depression that we would not find out I had until several years later, I cannot put my hand to my heart and say that I was a happy child. However, my fatness did not have a lot to do with that unhappiness. I was certainly well aware that I was fat and that people thought that fat was bad, but I was mostly upset because I was always on diets against my will and I wanted to eat tasty food with all the other kids. At that point, I still didn’t think of my body as “unacceptable.”
Then came high school. The transition from unhappy child to unhappy teenager was hardly going to be smooth, but during this period, I started to grasp the concept of the “unacceptable” body. I became friends with some girls who were also developing body image issues, and diet talk was always prevalent among us. My perspective was a bit different to theirs, though. They were considered thin and beautiful, and whether or not they were aware of it at the time, they had the option of looking at me and knowing that they at least were not “that bad.” I don’t know whether they ever did that, but I was hyperaware of the fact that they could, as well as of my status as the ugly girl in a group of beautiful girls. I hated my body then. It seemed so unfair that I was the one who was cursed with what I believed to be a disgustingly fat, ugly, worthless body when everybody else got to not be fat or ugly. I often wondered, Why me? What had I done to deserve this? For a long time, I would refuse to be in photos, and I was prone to random tantrums and sad attacks when thoughts about my fatness or my ugliness came to mind.
Interestingly enough, the first spark of body acceptance I felt was when I spent ten months in Japan between the ages of sixteen and seventeen. Being foreign already made me so extraordinarily different that my being fat was a superfluous detail. I was the foreign girl rather than the fat girl, and that was liberating for me. It was the only time in my life that people seemed to see me as an object of beauty. I cannot know for sure, but I suspect my Japanese classmates genuinely thought that I, with my unusual pale skin, blue-green eyes, and curly blonde hair, was beautiful. As I say, I’ve never experienced that feeling before or since, but it gave me a glimpse of how my life might have been different had I not been seen as the fat girl.
When I went back to Australia, I became friends with a more eclectic group of people. I was the fat girl again and I lost that feeling of being seen as beautiful, but it did not seem to matter as much with this group of people because all of us had points of difference. We had different hobbies, we held different beliefs, we came from different backgrounds, and so on. The experience of being part of a group of diverse people was liberating, and although I still felt that my fat body was ugly and unacceptable, that thought was no longer as debilitating as it had been during my early high school years.
I moved to the UK a year after finishing high school, and my body acceptance status stayed the same until a few years later, when an online acquaintance first introduced me to fat activism. As I looked upon pictures and pictures of women just as fat or fatter than me, posing in some of the most amazing outfits I’d ever seen and daring anybody who looked to not think them the epitome of hot stuff, I became curious. I bought books, I read studies, I listened to fat acceptance veterans, and all of these sources told me something that I had always wanted to be true: Being fat is okay.
I was resistant to the message at first. How, I wondered, could being fat possibly be okay when everybody and everything in my life before now had so adamantly insisted that being fat is unfortunate, at best – and utterly unacceptable, at worst? The switch-flicking moment happened when I thought about my life experiences as a fat person. Being fat in itself, I realised, had not prevented me from working hard, chasing my dreams, and doing what I had wanted to do. What had stopped me was the attitude towards fat held by mainstream society — and consequently, by me. That, I decided, was an attitude I no longer wanted to hold.
Soon after, I discovered the Light Entertainment society at my university. Light Entertainment societies, I have since discovered, have an extraordinary ability to attract members who are, in some way or another, seen as different by mainstream society. I was welcomed there with open arms, and it was as though I had found my own people. I was finally acceptable, fat body and all.
Since then, as other things have come into my life and demanded my attention, the appearance of my body has become less and less important. The more involved I become in activism, and the more I learn about the world and the people in it, the more grateful I feel for the body I have. My body might not be pretty by conventional standards, but it is mine and I am so lucky to have it. It keeps me alive, it takes me from point A to point B, it makes sure I look after it, it lets me feel pleasure and pain and joy and sadness and wonder and nervousness and excitement and contentment. I cannot bring myself to hate my body anymore, because now I understand just how much my body loves me.
This is not to say that I don’t have difficulty sometimes. I still have days when I wish I were thinner, or that I did not have a double chin, or that my face were different, or whatever else is bothering me at the time. But still, there are so many things I do now that I would never have done as a teenager. I wear short dresses and sleeveless tops. I pose happily in photos. I have clothes that fit me as I am now, not as I was 20kg ago. I go swimming. I go to the beach specifically to swim. I’m starting to learn to dance. It amazes me to think how far I’ve come, and it excites me to know that I can and will continue to go further as my body acceptance journey continues.
So that is my story so far. How about all of you? How are you travelling in your body acceptance journeys? Are you just starting out? How far have you gone? How far do you think you will go? Share your thoughts, questions, and wisdom below!
Love and Mint Slices,