There’s a conversation I’ve had repeatedly over the last few years that goes something like the following:
Me: “Makes reference to being overweight.” [Not self-judging but acknowledging the fact because trying to avoid being honest about it is a bit oppressive and why shouldn’t I get to be honest?]
Other person: “Oh you’re not that overweight” [Spoiler: I am. Though I’m probably not unusually overweight for Ireland.]
Me: “Ah, I am really.” [Seriously, you’re going to make me argue the point? Way to make it seem like an utterly unacceptable way to be.]
Other person: “Ah, but you had twins.”
Now, usually I’ve just replied with a self-deprecating “X years ago!” where X has, obviously enough, been growing and growing. (Like my belly – haha!)
But here’s some of what I’m actually thinking:
Why can’t it be okay to be honest about the fact that you’re overweight? When someone responds with an “oh you’re not really” or by making an “excuse” for it, it’s like being overweight without excuse is the worst possible reflection on your character. It’s like people are trying to say “It’s okay, you might be overweight, but I will still be your friend, I can see that you have a valid excuse.” Unlike all those other reprobate fat people with no excuse! We can judge them for their lazy eating!
Being Fat is not a moral failing, and yet every person’s reaction to any reference to it makes it seem like it’s something that I need to be forgiven for. Like, it’s okay that I’m fat, I can be the exception to the rule because the good things about me outweigh the bad (Did not intend that pun, nor did I intend to type “the food things about me”).
What I want to say to the “but you had twins” statement is something like “That has nothing to do with it – at least beyond my personal reaction to the stress of parenting – and even if it did, why are you acting like this is such a shameful thing that requires forgiveness? And why are you the person to grant me absolution? Would it make me such a terrible person if we had to admit that “fat” is one of my characteristics?!”
I can trace the journey of my personal weight gain. I can identify my past and current triggers. I don’t think it’s really relevant to society’s reaction to me as a fat person in public spaces, but I do know that if I were to tell my stories, my personal reasons, then I would be granted a pardon. I’m not looking for that. I’ve said that several times already, I know. The repetition is helping me too though. The world is so hell-bent on granting me the mercy of that pardon that I have to remind myself a lot that it wasn’t even something I was looking for in the first place.
My story in brief: Take a person with a naturally sweet tooth, who always associated “treat” foods with “reward” and with “holiday”, run her through the mill of a lot of personal stress and a five-year toxic relationship that ate away a lot of confidence and emphasised the message that thin(at any cost, thin, not healthy) = moral superiority, then add in infertility treatments, shame over that, three miscarriages and constant bleeding through the twin pregnancy that was finally attained after three years, combined with steroids to stop my body rejecting the pregnancy … then you get to the “set up” place.
I gained five stone over the course of my pregnancy. Some of it was attributable to the steroids, more to the fact that I was terrified to move, and still other parts to a stupid book that told me I had to eat constantly or my babies would starve. Then they finally came, and there was stress and no sleep and worry and back to work and more stress, and on Friday evenings, the “treat” of having some beers and takeaway gave me the feeling of a little “mini holiday” in the midst of it all. Before long I was “needing” a holiday from my life every evening.
I feel like I’m finally starting to climb out of this hole, this mindset that I had dug myself into.
But here’s the point that I was climbing my way around to: everyone has a story. Almost everyone’s adult life is weighed down with what feels (at times) like intolerable levels of stress. Almost everyone is doing their best to cope with that, and probably feels like taking a “holiday” from it. Children – as life-affirming and wonderful and hard-fought for as they may be – are decisions from which you can never have a break, so of course many of us are looking for a way to have a small holiday, something lets us breathe in the middle of it all.
But it’s not just children. Maybe it’s depression, maybe it’s a life-goal you’re struggling to achieve and feel like you’re not making headway on, maybe it’s unending financial worries, or a sick partner, or personal illness, or maybe it’s any number of things that you just can’t escape.
Who can be blamed for wanting a holiday?
When people are fat, maybe you’re seeing the results of that. But for sure there’re lots of folks who aren’t showing any of their scars externally. None of it is a moral choosing. We’re just coping as best we can.