Let us begin by acknowledging that it’s pretty depressing that being fat and happy is noteworthy enough to merit an interview. I don’t have any “I’m married and happy”, “I’m brunette and happy”, or “I’m short and happy” interviews.
Sadly, weighing 300 pounds and liking yourself is a bit unusual in American culture. Today, Rebecca shares her story.
Tell us a bit about yourself!
Hi! I’m Rebecca. I’m a 24 year-old writer and mental health coach from Toronto, ON. I love to travel, read blogs and go to food and art festivals.
At this moment, what’s your height and weight?
I’m 5’2” and about 300 lb. My lowest weight was around 150 and my highest was 325. About 6 months ago, I lost over 40 pounds due to Gastroparesis, and recently gained a small amount of that back. I haven’t been trying to either lose or gain weight since overcoming the eating disorder I had as a teenager, but my weight fluctuates a lot because of my multiple chronic illnesses.
Growing up, how did you feel about your body?
I’ve always been fat, just not this fat. As a child, I was seen as a little too chubby, but still cute and relatively healthy. As a teenager, I gained some weight because of the anxiety medications I was on. My doctor told me to exercise and eat healthy to prevent health issues correlated with being ‘overweight’, and I did, but my weight doubled within a few years. I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (which causes weight gain in most) soon after that.
As a child, I saw my body as the thing that let me run around the woods looking for cool bugs, take dance classes and play with hamsters. My parents told me how pretty I was, and I loved going shopping for dresses. I developed my own sense of style, layering multiple shades of pink (only pink!) in one outfit and wearing scrunchies on my arms.
At what point in your life did you say to yourself “I’m fat”?
Around 10. My dad was obsessed with what my mom, brother and I ate. I realize now that’s because he was emotionally abusive (this was just one of the ways), and because he was abused by his father in the same way. At the time, I just felt like I wasn’t good enough for this man I loved and looked up to.
I wanted to make him proud, but I was also hungry pretty frequently because he arbitrarily chose how large a portion of food I could have at each meal. He shamed me for what I ate, how often I wanted to eat, and how chubby I was. I was frustrated and felt like I couldn’t do anything right. I’m certain that’s the main reason I later developed an eating disorder.
At what point in your life did you say to yourself “I’m fat AND THAT’S TOTALLY FINE”?
I was about 18, living with my mom (who has always been loving and supportive of me). I got away from my abusive dad and came clean with my therapist and my mom about my eating disorder.
I also slowly began to discover body positive, fat acceptance and health at every size resources at the local library and online. These taught me the radical notion that people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect by themselves, their peers, families and medical professionals, regardless of their weight, size or health.
I started to think that maybe it was okay that I wasn’t thin like most of my friends and the women in magazines and movies. Maybe I was worthy of feeling healthy and pretty. Maybe I could learn to love my body. Maybe I should.
I started following blogs that used the word ‘FAT’ in a neutral (and sometimes even positive) light, and soon launched my own. Seeing women (and people of all genders) surviving and thriving at my size and larger, posting photos of themselves on the internet inspired me. It was so healing to see them sharing their experiences with fat shaming, shopping tiny plus size sections and dealing with institutionalized fatphobia.
How do the people in your life react to your weight?
My mom, has always encouraged me to love my body, no matter what I looked like. When I had scars from dermatillomania, stretch marks from puberty, a growing tummy from PCOS, she always told me I was beautiful, and meant it. She’s also an eating disorder survivor, and that gave me hope that I’d survive mine.
My father continued to be abusive throughout my teenage years and into my early 20s (though I slowly distanced myself from him). Whenever I’d meet him for dinner, he’d comment on what I ordered, how much I ate, and lectured me about how I wouldn’t have Gastroparesis and PCOS if I’d just lose weight. We don’t talk any more. I miss the great memories we created during my childhood, but I’m relieved his judgemental, ableist ideas about my weight and my health aren’t in my life.
My friends are very supportive. They even read my blog from time to time and compliment my writing and my body positive attitude!
You embrace the word ‘fat.’ What do you say when someone calls you ‘bigger’ or ‘curvy’
I don’t mind words like ‘bigger’ or ‘curvy’. I am big and I am curvy! But I also prefer the word ‘fat’, because I’m reclaiming a word that made me feel like garbage as a kid, and enforcing the fact that it’s just a neutral descriptor, like ‘short’ or ‘brunette’.
The words that really frustrate me are ‘overweight’ and ‘obese’. These words call my size an illness, and are a large part of why so much stigma is attached to being fat.
A lot of people erroneously believe that being overweight and being healthy are mutually exclusive (even though recent studies have shown that overweight people are no more likely to develop heart disease, etc than ‘normal-sized’ people.) Do people ever express concern about your health? And how do you react?
All the time. I get strangers (in person and online) asking me if I’ve tried those wrap things, or if I’ve joined a gym, or whatever, under the guise of “I’m just worried about your health”. They know literally nothing about my health just from seeing my size. They can see that I use a cane, but they don’t ask if I’ve tried orthotic shoes, or give me the name of their rheumatologist, or offer me their seat on the bus.
I’ve also never been asked by a well-meaning stranger how my iron levels are or if my mental health is okay. That leads me to believe that it’s less about my well-being, and more about their aversion to seeing a fat person who’s happy with herself.
This past January, I wrote an article for xoJane about how my multiple chronic illnesses lead my weight to double over four years, and that I still love my body. Out of the 521 comments it received, almost all of them said I was ‘killing’ myself, I was ‘delusional’, didn’t know the facts, hadn’t tried the right diet… It’s incredible how many people think fat people are unable to think for themselves or be happy and healthy without wanting to lose weight.
Do you think your weight affects other areas of your life – social, professional, etc?
It absolutely does.
In fact, it’s been proven that employers would rather hire a thin, under-qualified candidate over a fat, qualified candidate. Men constantly want to hook up with me, but don’t want to be seen with me (an experience most fat girls have).
Clothing stores almost never carry my size, and if they do, the clothes are expensive, poorly made, and hidden in the back of the store. Booths in restaurants and arm chairs in offices usually are large enough for me, but at my highest weight, they were difficult.
Being both fat and disabled, I should mention that my medical care– I spend a lot of time in doctors’ offices– entirely depends upon whether the specialist I’m seeing that day is prejudiced against fat people. Does this doctor use evidence-based treatment and realize that fat is correlated with some illnesses, rather than the cause? Or is this doctor going to tell me my damaged ankle, my genetic endocrine disorder, my common cold is caused by my weight?
I literally had a doctor argue with me that the reason I was seeing him was to treat my Diabetes– an illness which I don’t have, and am tested for every few months– not my PCOS, which I have had for years and wanted to discuss.
I think many people – regardless of gender or weight – struggle to feel happy and confident in their bodies. When you don’t see many people who look like you being praised in the media, how do you stay confident?
Thank God for the internet! Look for photos on Tumblr of people with body types similar to yours. Make a vision board out of photos of people who look like you. The more you’re exposed to people who are similar to your size and shape, the sooner you’ll start liking what you see in the mirror.
Are there any books/websites/tools/resources that have really helped you?
What have you learned from this that any of us could apply to our daily lives?
Whatever clothing you buy, you should try on, feel confident in (no pulling at the garment throughout the day or wearing something that’s not the right size!), and buy multiples of. I swear by the leggings at Torrid and Walmart, and have soooo many pairs. When I stopped wearing things that didn’t fit, or were supposed to be ‘slimming’ and ‘flattering’ and just started wearing what made me happy, I felt so much better about myself.
On the more philosophical side, I’d have to agree with the “temporary skinbag” sentiment! The body you have is the one you’re stuck with. Losing weight is damn near impossible (literally only 5% of people actually keep it off long term!) and plastic surgery is expensive. Your mind and your heart are what’s most important, anyway. You may as well embrace, and maybe even love, the body you have. It’s the only one you’ve got.
Thank you so much for sharing your story, Rebecca! Do you guys have any questions for her?
P.S. True Story: I’m tiny