Fat!?!? You’re not . . . FAT!

Ah Yes. Over at Feed Me, Harriet wrote a nice post about how people try to cheer us up about our relative fatness. Since many of us have people in our lives who embark on the quest for the Holy Grail of thinness, and since this quest involves a lot of self-negating talk about I’m Fat/You’re not fat, even around those of us who actually are fat, I’d like to expound on this topic further.

I remember sitting at a bar with some friends not all that long ago, and the topic of bodies came up. One woman, who had been quite thin not all that long ago, and who was not interested in dieting, began talking about her body. She is striving to get used to it, although she admits that she has been walking around in this new body for some time now, but simply hasn’t identified with it, and still identifies with her old, thin body.

She said something along the lines of, I’m not used to being fat.

Someone at our table chimed in, immediately: You’re not FAT!

I, of, course responded with: Fat? Who cares? Half the people in this room are considered fat by today’s standards. And I ranted on. The people at the table were shocked as I continued on my little platform about fatness.

This woman is considerably smaller than me. What is interesting to me, is that at this current size I inhabit, I have also said: I’m fat! and people have said: Fat? You’re not fat!

Um, yes I am. I wear a Size 20-22-24. I weigh 263.8 pounds. I most certainly am fat.

But I know what they mean. What they mean is, you don’t act fat. You don’t smell fat. You don’t do fat. Because fat isn’t just a physical characteristic, it’s a moral one.

This is particularly poignant for me.

A number of years ago, I was cleaning out the massive mess in my now-ex-husband’s apartment. I was moving in, and I needed space for my stuff. He had a suitcase full of mail, and I was annoyedly sorting through it. Who keeps a suitcase full of mail?

In this suitcase were a bunch of composition notebooks. In my haste of tossing out stacks and stacks of mail, I started flipping through these notebooks. And they were journals. I perused a few entries, which were fairly boring, actually, so I didn’t pour over them too much. This is true. I am nosy, and so I might be tempted to actually read every notebook, front to back. But they were … boring. So I didn’t.

However, flipping through one notebook, one phrase caught my eye: “large women.”

There was no way I could let that pass.

The entry detailed how he was not attracted to large women. Period. It was in the context of several large women being attracted to him. It was a few years prior to my meeting him. I was floored. I was a “large woman.”

A few days later, I asked him, in a circuitous fashion, about fatness and what that meant to him, in terms of relationships. He said this:

“You carry yourself so well, though.”

I guess that meant I walk, and don’t roll.

Which is similar to: You’re not fat!

My first boyfriend was unsure if we would have sex, pointing to my belly as the reason why, while we were both naked and rolling around in the sheets.

Later, after we consummated our relationship, he claimed:

“But you don’t act fat!”

Which is the same as: “You’re not fat!”

What people really mean when they say: “You’re not fat,” or any of the variations thereof, is the following: “You’re not fat. Because if you were, that would mean I would have to admit I was hanging out with, sleeping with, marrying, living with, fucking, eating dinner with, working with, dating, and generally occupying the same space as a real-honest-to-god fat person, and that idea is the most disgusting thing I can think of, so I am convincing myself that You Are Not Fat, and don’t tell me otherwise, Ok?”

I reject that. I don’t want to be reassured about my body, whether I am secure or insecure in it at any given moment, in order to assuage other people’s feelings of shame about being seen with me. I don’t want to be relegated to a position of reflected guilt. That’s not for me. Not anymore.

18 Comments

  1. KarenElhyam said,

    January 24, 2008 at 11:42 am

    I have been told multiple times by my current boyfriend that “You’re not fat!” To be fair, I am on the other end of the spectrum (a size 14-16 gal over here) but I know that I am, in fact, fat. There is no denying. And you’ve just described exactly why that bothered me, even though I could never put a face on it…

    Now, he is quite a bit bigger than me, and perhaps that is the reference point he uses. However, something I’ve yet to really do for him is help him to accept his own body, as much as I’ve tried, and there is no question that has probably forced him to utter something as ridiculously untrue as “You’re not fat” despite the fact that my BMI is obese to moderately obese (for all that that is worth, but I think you’ll understand that from a societal and cultural perspective, it’s a decent way to gauge things).

    Just the idea of being associated with a fat person, that is, a stereotype that doesn’t reflect reality but we all fight ceaselessly to avoid, is unthinkable.

    You’re absolutely right, I don’t want to be reassured. I’m gonna speak up next time. Thank you.

  2. Limor said,

    January 24, 2008 at 2:01 pm

    When I married my ex I was a size 14, an excersize bulimic, and starving myself. Even though My body was fatter than what he liked, he felt that since I was doing evertyhing I could to lose weight (i.e. killing myself) it was acceptable. As soon as I began to eat healthily again, and didn’t spend 6 hours a day excersizing, the weight came back on, and he was disgusted with me. I’m now a size 18-22, and I feel better about myself than I did then. I’m also married to a man who knows that I am fat, and loves every ounce of me.

  3. thoughtracer said,

    January 24, 2008 at 2:07 pm

    I spent a long time exercising just so I could prove to people: Hey, I am fat, but look! I am exercising, so you have to forgive me for it! Because I am trying! I totally get what you are saying. It’s hard even now for me to exercise because I am afraid of getting trapped in that mindset. It’s so powerful.

  4. deja pseu said,

    January 24, 2008 at 2:21 pm

    I think another thing at work here in the “you’re not FAT” meme is that for so many people, “fat” means “fat-and-sloppy,” ” fat-and-lazy,” “fat-and-negative-characteristic-du-jour” and they can’t separate “fat” from those negative “ands”. So to those people, if you’re not lazy/sloppy/whatever, you couldn’t possibly be fat.

  5. szhoutz said,

    January 24, 2008 at 2:57 pm

    I get what you’re saying – I get that some people are afraid. (And maybe more so now that there are delightful studies out there suggesting fat friends make us even fatter.) But I still think you have to individually filter. When my husband – who knows all too well just how fat I am – says to me when I’m frustrated with my body and complaining that my fatness is getting in my way, “You’re not fat!” we both know he’s lying. At the same time, I know he’s doing it not because he’s afraid of my fatness – he married me only 20 pounds or so lighter – but because he’s attempting to remove the negativity I’ve attached to it. (Much the way he denies I’m getting older when, short of death, that’s rather unavoidable.) You obviously can’t know everyone’s motives – but I also think you can’t rule out the possibility that they are, at least occasionally, benign.

  6. yeah said,

    January 24, 2008 at 3:15 pm

    szhoutz is right. it’s not always 100% negative. when someone at a table sighs and says, “I”m fat…” sometimes the friend/lover/partner/whatever’s response is “you’re not fat” because the complainer is clearly unhappy about it. His/her unhappiness with his/her fatness is a different conversation for sure, but the automatic “you’re not fat” is not always evil.

  7. thoughtracer said,

    January 24, 2008 at 3:33 pm

    You are right. It may not always be evil, but what is it saying, anyway? What would be the harm in a conversation like:

    “I’m fat!!”

    “So what? You’re great and beautiful!”

    Because in that context, the “I’m fat,” is you saying all those things about yourself … at least from what I am understanding.

    I remember when I finally owned up to myself that I was, indeed, fat. I cried a lot about it, and then, it ended up being … liberating. Because if I said it about myself, it didn’t matter if anybody else said it against me anymore. It was then just a word.

  8. szhoutz said,

    January 24, 2008 at 3:56 pm

    thoughtracer, I agree that some of this is still related to the fact that while I’m working on being entirely okay with being fat, there are days and moments when the fatness bothers me – when it interferes with what I’m trying to do or be or accomplish. Sorta like not being able to reach something on a high shelf and saying, “I’m just too short!” or trying to lift a box and saying, “I’m just not strong enough – it’s too heavy.” So yeah, while it is just a word, there are times I give it negativity myself, because in that _moment_ it is negative. Could my husband say, instead, “But you will still accomplish that, because I know how you are.” Yeah… and while I might suggest a better approach, I can hardly hold his intent against him.

  9. thoughtracer said,

    January 24, 2008 at 6:38 pm

    This is an additional thought that I didn’t put in the blog: I think that when people immediately respond with: But you’re not fat! They may mean well, but they aren’t aware of their own deep fears of the word fat because of all the societal garbage behind it. Fat is an ugly word. To hear someone say it about themselves can be really hard to hear, and so people simply want to make it better somehow.

  10. Fatadelic said,

    January 24, 2008 at 6:42 pm

    “But you don’t act fat!”

    Ha! How does one “act fat”? By never moving off the couch? By having hamburgers constantly grafted into one’s hand for convenient stuffing into one’s mouth? By wearing baggy and unattractive sweat pants?

    No one “acts fat” except TV or Hollywood fatties.

  11. thoughtracer said,

    January 24, 2008 at 6:50 pm

    Well, here is a very helpful quiz to find out how fat you may act.

    I am 0% fat. Hence, the “But you don’t act fat.” Um, of course.

    The irony of this quiz is that to be able to create this, the person must have been hella fat, according to the quiz’s standards of fatness.

  12. dtenner said,

    January 25, 2008 at 4:53 am

    Umm… I don’t mean to be offensive, but honestly, the fact that the large numbers of massively overweight people around you are trying to deal with their obesity by denying that it’s a problem doesn’t change the key issues:
    1) being obese, by itself, is extremely bad for your health (diabetes, heart problems, etc)
    2) being obese is usually accompanied by being fairly inactive physically, which also has some very bad side-effects
    3) obese people often don’t feed themselves right (YES!… sugar is not enough), don’t eat enough fresh, vitamin-full vegetables, which is also really bad for your health

    It’s amazing how many blogs written by fat people have the same delusional theme: “ooh, I’m not fat because everyone else is fat around me” or “I’m ok with being fat, really I am” or “I’m happy with my 400 pounds of fat, if you’re not happy that’s your problem”. Wake up folks! The problem with being fat is not the way you feel – it’s the way it destroys your body.

    The way you feel about your fatness has NOTHING to do with it. If your body fat percentage is in the “obese” norm, you are FAT. And you are getting all the health issues associated with it.

    Getting thinner isn’t hard. Forget about all the fad diets. There are only 3 key, proven vital behaviours to losing weight:
    1) weigh yourself every day (including body fat %)
    2) have a way of exercising at home
    3) eat breakfast every day

    Do this from now on (not for a limited period, for the rest of your life) and you can lose weight. When you find you’re not losing weight, eat less or exercise more. Easy.

  13. JoGeek said,

    January 25, 2008 at 12:15 pm

    Aw man…one lesbian comment away from getting a BINGO!

    If trolls are going to trot out the same old crap, they could at least make it fun to play.

  14. morganseer said,

    February 5, 2008 at 8:47 pm

    Ok, I’m a semi-skinny person who just stumbled onto this log, but I gotta defend us non-fat people regarding our intent. Well, at least my intent. It’s hard to always know how to respond when someone says “I’m fat.” The “so what” answer is good if the speaker is comfortable with their body, but may not be so well received if they are not. See the dilemma? So yes, I’m sure that at some point in my life I’ve disputed someone’s self-observation about being fat. Faux pas, perhaps, but well meant.

  15. tyty said,

    February 12, 2008 at 2:27 am

    o_O………

  16. Ch said,

    March 18, 2008 at 2:29 pm

    I honestly agree. If you dont act fat, people dont see you as fat. I am just a freshman in high school and i know many girls who arent really fat and others think of them as fat just because they have that mentality. But i also think that people need to work to stay in shape and healthy as much as possible. Not for your looks though, just because you will feel better and you will be around longer! so love life and live it to the fullest!

  17. Annie Marie said,

    February 22, 2010 at 6:03 pm

    I agree with everyone’s psots here, in their own way. If you are living a healthy lifestyle and are overweight, then kudos to you, and own it. But, if you are living an unhealthy lifestyle and are proud of that, it certainly isn’t good.


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