Celebrating Women (Subtitle: Leave My Sister Alone.)

I’m a fat activist. That is, I’m fat and I am an activist. Or, at least, I’m as much of an activist as I can be between teaching five classes, running an online writing academy, donating my time to sit on the board of directors for the Golden Crown Literary Society, marketing my novels, finishing my second master’s degree, trying to find a publisher for my women’s fiction book, and dealing with immigration with my Canadian wife. I’m not glorifying busy here, it’s just the state of my life right now.

When I *am* focusing my attention on the fat-phobia that permeates our nation, I generally do so by pointing out the wage gap often seen between fat people and non-fat people, the way folks seem to think it’s okay to yell insults at me when I’m outside exercising, and the way seemingly well-meaning people like to say, “I have this new diet you should try.”

Mostly, my activism comes in the form of gently correcting people who mean well and raising my middle finger to people who don’t. Sometimes it comes in the form of reposting quotes from people who step outside of the patriarchal idea of womanhood in adele.PNGone way or another.  Do I shave my legs? Nope. Do I care what you think about that fact? Nope.

Most days, however, my activism just comes in the form of living my life as a large woman and dealing with the bigotry and hatred that is often directed at people, especially women, of size by this world that has somehow made it clear that being skinny is preferable to being fat, even if that comes at the cost of one’s health.

 

On a related topic – my sister has always been unhappy with her weight. Like me, she yo-yo dieted for much of her life. Like me, she grew up in a household where our weight was a main topic of mockery and discussion. Our father used to have a saying, “There’s large, there’s extra-large and then there’s you – Whoa, my god, it’s coming toward me.” Like me, she got into relationships with people who didn’t value her body the way it was. Like me, she suffered insults and jabs and substandard medical care. Like me, she felt out of place almost all the time. Like me, she learned from our mother that dieting and self-deprivation is the only way to be a good person. Like me, she hated her body and everything else about herself. Like me, she lived with abusive people far longer than she should have because she didn’t think she had any other choices. And like me, she ultimately came to fall in love with someone who loved and accepted her just the way she was.

This is where our stories diverged. I threw myself into my life and, with the help of my wife, decided to stop dieting ever again. We’re vegan, we eat mostly whole food, plant based. We sometimes have cake. We’ve been known to order a vegan pizza here and there and eat the whole thing while watching Doctor Who episodes. We go for walks, we go for bikes rides, we sleep in and drink coffee in bed. We eat the same things, same portions, same snacks. The difference is that my wife is tiny and I’m fat. (And she also travels so she sometimes [often] gets bags of M&Ms on the road. I see you, babe. Love you.) I didn’t spend my time losing weight, but I spent my time getting happy with my body, luxuriating in how it feels to be intimate with someone who adores the feel and look of my body. I focused on self-care, self-advocacy, and self-love. I learned to stand up to doctors who, when I walk in to talk about a sore throat, say, “Let’s talk about weight loss.” I’m fat and I’m healthy. My blood pressure is normal, my blood sugars are normal, and I have an incredible life in every way. In essence, I became a fat activist simply by existing.

My sister, on the other hand, decided she wanted to lose the weight. She wasn’t happy with her body, she didn’t feel comfortable moving, and she wasn’t healthy. She started Brightline Eating and she lost a lot of weight and she has kept it off. If anyone here has ever lost a significant amount of weight and kept it off, you know what an incredible feata laura that is. I liken it to being harder than quitting smoking, because when you quit smoking, you can just be done with cigarettes for life, but you always have to come back to food. She put a ton of work into it – skipping parties or taking her own food to restaurants, weighing and measuring everything she ate. And she is happy with her accomplishment. She’s happy that she can move her body in ways that feel good to her. She’s happy that she succeeded at something so hard.

And she got to be on a magazine cover! I mean if that isn’t a super-incredible reward for a ton of hard work, what is? My sister worked hard and she’s proud of herself. And she should be.

Fast forward to people sharing the picture from the magazine above and inevitably, someone has to say, “You’re harming fat women by celebrating your weight loss.” My sister calmly responded that this was a personal achievement that she needed to do for her own health and happiness. And at least one person came back with the idea that my sister was parading and flaunting herself and putting it on magazines which perpetuates the idea that thin = healthy.

Folks. this entire culture is designed to make women feel bad about their bodies. Everything in the media, in commercials, in movies, in music videos is designed to make women hate their bodies.

For us to turn around and shame a woman who has moved out of the cycle of self-hatred is also participating in that culture. My sister is a rock star and I celebrate her hard work. When she posts a picture of herself celebrating having lost the weight, the person who shames her for that is just as bad as the culture that created a need for women to hate their bodies. It isn’t right. And it isn’t fair. How dare you blame my sister for perpetuating something we are steeped in 24/7 from the moment we are born? How dare you slam her for finding her own way to deal with a culture that tells her (us) that she is wrong no matter what she does? How dare you?

Women, the only way to truly lift ourselves and each other out of this lifetime of oppression is to support and nurture each other. That means accepting each other’s choices. It’s why my sister doesn’t try to force her lifestyle on me and it’s why I don’t get to force mine on her. It’s no different than accepting that some women will color their hair and some will go naturally grey. Some will be bald. Some shave their legs. Some have armpit hair. We don’t get to tell another woman what she should do with her body and we don’t get to decide for another woman how to survive in a culture designed to bring us down.

 

 

 

Why I Love my Fat Body – And Why You Should, Too.

Whenever I see pictures of fat women (almost exclusively women) posted online, I inevitably see a bunch of comments about how sickening it is to glorify fat because it is so unhealthy. Bodies come in all degrees of health. There are skinny unhealthy people and fat healthy people and everything in between. If you are using the illogical fallacy of fat being unhealthy to fuel your hatred, you might as well go onto a page of people with heart disease and spout off about how ugly their chest scars are. At any rate, if you’re the kind of person who goes to the comments on posts like that just so you can talk about how unhealthy fat people are, please stop reading this post. You are too stupid to grasp any of what I have to say after this.

I’ve spent a lot of years overcoming the sad effects of a society that punishes people for being fat. There are those who think they mean well such as the “you have such a beautiful face” crowd and the well-meaning mother who struggles with her own self-esteem and pushed new diets on me from the age of twelve. There was the time my sister, also a victim of the bias against fat women, told me that I better lose weight before high school because if I wanted to be in the marching band, I was going to have to get changed in front of everyone else in the band. In fourth grade, we had class weigh ins right in front of the whole class and everyone tried to see what mine said. Throughout middle school and high school, other kids oinked or mooed at me on a regular basis. Once, when jogging, a man actually slowed down his pickup truck to yell, “Don’t break the pavement, fatty” as I ran by. I walked home and didn’t run again for many long years. I absorbed every comment, every snide remark, every well-meaning, but still cutting aside.

As an adult, I set about trying to comes to terms with my fat body, even while putting it through the hell of every diet I could find. I ate nothing but grapefruit. I did the cabbage soup diet. Once, I lost sixty pounds and bought clothes in the “normal” stores and still thought I was ridiculously fat. And ugly. I equated fat with ugly back then. I joined a group of women who purported to be about size acceptance but really consisted of a lot of sad women sitting around talking about how much it sucked to be fat.

I had relationships in my twenties, but I attributed that to people who just fell in love with my personality and put up with the fact that I was fat. In essence, I didn’t love myself, so it didn’t occur to me that someone else could love me just as I was. Of course, because of that, I drew people who didn’t love and embrace me the way that I was. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Fast forward to the age of 38 when I, though a positive and loving woman, was not doing well. I was in a long term relationship with someone who did not celebrate me. I was a two pack a day smoker. I was a daydreamer, but not a doer. I had moved to a beautiful Caribbean island and I loved a lot of things about my life there, but I wasn’t treating myself with respect and care.

One day, I decided that had to change. I was tired of hating my body. I was tired of being afraid of what people had to say about me. I was tired about not going to Zumba classes or refusing to go for a swim because of the way certain people looked at me.

It was a slow process. I started by quitting drinking. Then I quit smoking. I started hiking with my soul friend, Aj. We took huge hikes up the sides of gigantic hills that I thought might kill me. I knew it was the best way to keep from going back to smoking. I started meditating. I became a vegetarian. Eventually, I left that dead end relationship and moved back to the states.

And something amazing happened. I grew to love myself. I didn’t just love myself in spite of my fat body. I loved myself AND my fat body. I went to the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival where I saw women of every shape and size and age and color and ability laughing and loving and dancing and celebrating themselves and me. I fell in love with my own breasts, the weight of them, the way they felt when I lifted them in my hands. I grew to love touching the soft skin of my stomach. I admired the strong and fat curves of my butt. I expressed gratitude for my big thighs that have carried me this far in my wonderful journey. I made love with womyn with the lights on. I refused to be with someone who didn’t love my body the way it was. I set my boundaries and my boundaries involved only being involved with womyn who celebrated and cherished me. And since I’m not a hypocrite, I applied that same rule to myself. I celebrated and cherished myself.

Then something even more amazing happened. I realized I wasn’t just talking about it. I was living it. I celebrated women of all shapes and sizes. I didn’t feel defensive around women with thin bodies or athletic bodies. I didn’t equate skinny with beautiful and I didn’t equate fat with ugly. I started to see through the patriarchal bullshit that insists women be in competition with each other. I started to call out instances of fat shaming, or any kind of shaming of women for their bodies. I stopped watching anything to do with celebrities and I refused to look at fashion magazines and I realized that I have gotten out of the Matrix. That all of those people who think that they have the right to tell women what they should do with their bodies are poisoned in their minds. They’re sick. They are the unhealthy ones. The people who yell “fatty” at a jogger or sneer at a fat person in an exercise class or peer into someone’s cart at the grocery store to see what kind of food they’re buying or purposely go to a page about fat acceptance to leave idiotic comments about fat being gross and unhealthy or lift their eyebrows when they see a woman with hairy legs or write off older women as useless or refuse to see any woman who falls outside of the standard societal expectation of pretty as just that. They are the sick ones. They’re what’s wrong with this society. Those people who feel they somehow have a right to hate someone based on the way they look.They’re hurting our society and they need help.

My journey continued until I was not only loving myself the way I am, but teaching other women how to do the same. Women who have felt too old, too skinny, too muscled, too fat, too wrinkled, too scarred. Women who, like me, have been told that they are not enough the way they are. Women who wore the negative opinions of this sick society.

I learned that I’m beautiful. More importantly, I learned that I am worthy of love and happiness and respect and desire. I learned that I am a woman in every true sense of the word and anyone who can’t understand that isn’t worth my time.

Finally, today was the culmination of all of my self love work. I’ve been telling women of every size and shape that they are beautiful for years. Today when I opened a link to look at the pictures of Leonard Nimoy’s fat nudes and I realized that I thought every single one of them was incredibly fucking beautiful. I felt it down to my very soul. These women were divine and miraculous and beautiful and worthy.I’m not sick anymore. I’m not warped by this sick society. I’ve won. I’m healed. You can be, too.

Getting Rid of Your Scale… And other people’s perceptions.

all you need is loveTwo things happened in the past couple of days that have led to this blog. First, a friend of mine wrote to me, “I love how you carry yourself. The way you walk and dance and play, you move like you own your body. I think so many of us (women) are enslaved by our perceived abundances or lacks and we carry ourselves as if to hide those imagined imperfections. You seem to celebrate with your body.” I had to read it several times and then think on it for a while before responding. I hadn’t thought of it like that. I merely move through my life the way I want to move, I love who I love, and I do what I want to do. See, it took me almost 41 years to get to this point, and I’m not going to let other people’s ideas about what a fat woman should and should not do/wear/be/say dictate how I behave.

In a way, as I responded to that friend, being a big woman in this society is an act of defiance. I will not hide myself or shrink myself or try to conform myself to someone else’s standards of beauty.

On the opposite side of that is not letting people’s outspoken approval of my moves toward a more societally acceptable appearance turn my head either. The second thing that happened was this exchange at work:

Co-worker: Are you losing weight?

Me: Probably. Seems my pants go on a little easier these days.

Co-worker: How much have you lost?

Me: I don’t know.

Co-worker: Well, when do you weigh?

Me: I don’t. Or won’t.

Cow-worker: (Dumbfounded) Well, how will you know how much weight you lost?

Me: I won’t.

Co-worker: What will you tell people?

Me: What people?

Co-worker: The ones who want to know how much you lost.

Me: It’s none of their business.

Co-worker: I just don’t understand.

Me: You’re confusing a number on a scale with my worth as a person. I don’t.

We exchanged a few more words, but I could tell she walked away without any understanding. I was trying to explain to her that I do not own a scale. I got rid of it a couple of years ago and I will not set foot on one again. Here’s the thing. I am not defined by a number on a scale. I am a strong, creative, beautiful, sexy, funny woman, and some arbitrary number cannot define my self-worth. It took forever for me to realize this… that someone else’s opinion of the way I look matters not one bit to me. They can’t change who I am. They don’t get to define me.

Am I losing weight? Yes. I went vegan a few weeks ago, not out of a weight-loss plan, but to be a better citizen of this universe and for my own health; soul health, emotional health, physical health, and mental health. I have been exercising a little bit because I feel better when my lungs and heart are working well. I meditate daily because it brings me calm and helps to retain my joy. Does all of this contribute to weight loss? Probably. I am definitely heavier than I want to be for my OWN PERSONAL life goals. That is, I want to be able to run up the stairs, and walk five miles for fun, and hike up hills, and kayak, and swim, and play in the woods. But I do not need to be a certain societally prescribed number to do those things. If I lose weight and get healthy and fit, I’ll be happy. If I don’t lose weight and get healthy and fit, I’ll be happy.beth at fest

Society has told us from the time that we were little girls that we should look a certain way. Women need to conform to a certain look that has been deemed attractive. It’s the media and our parents and our teachers. I remember my mother in a constant battle with her weight and that translated to all three of the girls in my family. I heard a family member saying about her maybe eight year old daughter, “She was so tiny when she was born. I don’t know what happened.” I hear a friend of mine constantly saying, “Some women should not wear things like that.”I have another friend who actually weighs herself five times a day. FIVE TIMES. And just try reading your Facebook or Twitter feed during things like the Oscars and seeing posts about how fat a certain celebrity looks in a dress. Seriously? Every time someone mocks a woman for the way she looks, she is sending a message to every one around her (and to herself) that no matter what other accomplishments that woman has achieved, she is not good enough unless she conforms to the prescribed way of looking. Is that pathetic?

It’s time to throw away the scale. Take whatever self-care you need to make you happy, and leave it at that. Shaming has never helped anyone get healthy. Shaming someone about their weight does not make them want to lose weight… it simply puts them into a lifelong battle with their weight that they will have to overcome if they ever want to be truly happy. So start right now with getting rid of the scale. Repeat the mantra to yourself, “An arbitrary number does not define me. Society’s *rules” do not define me.” Fat, skinny, old, young, white, black, tall, short, over abundant, under abundant, big breasts, small breasts, no breasts… whatever your appearance, take it back. Take it back and live your life as an act of defiance. Be who and how you want to be and if anyone has a problem with it, remember that it is indeed just that – THEIR problem. It is time to stop giving in to the culture that raised us to think we aren’t good enough. You know what? We ARE GOOD ENOUGH! Confidence is the ultimate reward. Understand that loving yourself is the ultimate act of rebellion. Flipping off the weight loss centers and the makeup industry and the billions of dollars spent to try to look the way we were told we should look is our choice. We have the power.