My body is not heartbreaking: more fun with microaggressions

I’m exceedingly lucky in that I haven’t dealt with much in-person fat hatred since…well, middle school. I’ve never gotten cat-called by a stranger, and the people in my life are considerate enough that even if they’re pro-weight loss (which many of them are), they respect that I’m happy with my body.

Almost every post I read on This Is Thin Privilege makes me think, “Holy shit! People are TERRIBLE toward fatties, and it’s sheer luck that I haven’t dealt with stuff like this.”

And even still. Even still, I come across digs at fat people everywhere.

Almost every book I read–even my beloved Deep Economy–has some mention of the OMGBESITY!!1! epidemic (if it’s non-fiction), or a negative portrayal of a fat character (if it’s fiction or memoir).

And the internet? Forget about it. If I explore pretty much any topic outside of fat acceptance, there’s always a mention of how awful fat bodies are, regardless of how irrelevant that is to the subject at hand.

For example, I’m a Facebook fan of a couple of travel writers who call themselves Married With Luggage. Because hey, travel writing is interesting. I like to read about other people’s adventures, and fantasize about going on my own adventures someday.

And then I saw they had posted an article about how, between the two of them, they lost 70 pounds while travelling abroad. Of course, they prefaced the link with one of the most cliche stereotypes about fat people: “You may not want to read this if you’re having donuts for breakfast.”

I am so, so sick of people assuming that fat people eat donuts all the time.

Even worse, in one of their comments, they said:

As I pointed out in the article, there are plenty of overweight people around the world (and it’s increasing). But overall, [here in the US] we’re still the biggest, which is heartbreaking when we have the wealth and options to be healthy.

Leaving aside that fact that many, many people in the US don’t have the wealth and options to be healthy, this statement is still wrong–and painful to read–on so many levels.

There are people–seemingly reasonable, decent people–who think the existence of bodies like mine is heartbreaking. Who think that my life must be a tragedy because I wear above a size 14.  Who refuse to believe that health comes in more than one size. And who refuse to understand that not everyone prioritizes health in the same ways, or at all.

My body is not heartbreaking.

The stories I read every day about fat hatred, stigma, and discrimination are heartbreaking. The stories of fat people getting sick or dying because doctors ignored their health problems and blamed them all on their size are heartbreaking. The stories of fat people who are denied the right to adopt children, or have even had their children taken away from them due to their size, are heartbreaking. The extremely common stories of men, women, and children suffering from eating disorders are heartbreaking.

My body, itself, is not heartbreaking. I am 5’5″, about 235 or 240 pounds (not sure exactly, as I haven’t weighed myself in a while). I usually wear between a size 18 and 22 (US). I’m gainfully employed, although currently in a temporary job. I’ve been dating my wonderful boyfriend for over a year, and I’m happier with him than I’d ever imagined I could be. I have an amazing circle of friends, with whom I attend parties and have adventures all over town. Just last night, I went on an experimental exploring trip with a few of them, and ended up climbing a playground rope structure while blindfolded! (Don’t worry, we were safe: I had a non-blindfolded friend giving me very good directions, and I only got about 5 feet up.)

I volunteer with an organization that takes inner-city kids into nature. I dance and do yoga, and enjoy hiking, swimming, and kayaking every now and then. Sometimes I exercise less when I’m busy or stressed out or have a weird work schedule. But I come back to it eventually because I like joyful movement. Same with food: I tend to eat too much sugar when I’m tired or stressed out. But I also love vegetables–there’s nothing like Brussels sprouts roasted with garlic, olive oil, and sea salt. I eat shit-tons of quinoa. In the summer, I’m all about tomatoes from the farmers’ market, and big bowls of berries garnished with mint leaves. I’m more likely to eat a bowl of Raisin Bran for breakfast than a donut, considering I don’t even like donuts that much.

But even if I were single, unemployed, less social, didn’t enjoy exercise, and/or actually ate donuts for breakfast every day? My body still wouldn’t be a tragedy.

My body would still be me. Whole, complex, imperfect–but in no way heartbreaking.

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32 thoughts on “My body is not heartbreaking: more fun with microaggressions

  1. It’s the imperfections and complexities that make people and their bodies SO BEAUTIFUL! I love that you love yourself just the way you are. Keep rocking you’re gorgeous body and you’re unique and fabulous fashion sense!

  2. love this!
    our bodies are not heartbreaking. it’s a reassuring thought.

    (new-ish to your blog; I’m a purple haired MLP fan ultra liberal fatshionista…I was the other person who had a unicorn costume in the LJ fatshionista community–nice to meet you! )

    I also started to read Deep Economy…it’s been sitting on my bookshelf for a while. I picked it up though since one of your recent posts reminded me of it, but I’ll have to watch out now for some Fatty Scare stuff in there. 😦

    • Nice to meet you too, and welcome! Huzzah for purple hair and ponies. 😀

      The anti-fat stuff in Deep Economy isn’t too bad–it’s just a mention of the “obesity epidemic” here and there. It’s frustrating and annoying, but it’s not nearly as bad as what I’ve seen in other books, and it’s still an amazing read overall. I hope you enjoy it!

  3. Hi, Laura. I’m sharing my response to your Facebook message to me below. Thanks again for sharing your perspective:

    Laura, thanks for writing in. I understand your frustration because I’ve been overweight most of my life. After watching my 35-year-old brother suffer a heart attack and seeing my own health and vitality improve with a change in diet and exercise, I can’t sit by and say nothing.

    Unhealthy people are heart-breaking, whether they are starving children with no energy or overweight adults who cannot walk 500 feet without getting winded.

    I accept we are not all the same size, but I do not accept that increasing incidents of diabetes, heart disease, limited mobility and other preventable health problems are okay.

    The article is a wake-up call to our general population who feeds fast food to 1 out of every 3 kids per day. When rates of diabetes are doubling in just 1 generation, we have a serious national health problem, and it can easily be tied back to the food we eat and the way we move (or don’t).

    There is no “right size” – I’m still above the size portrayed in magazines and the media – but we cannot as a nation keep eating unhealthy food and sitting through our lives if we want to maintain our health and our country’s vitality, no matter what size clothes we wear. (You’ll note our proposed solution does not include a diet plan or size goal; it is simply to “pay attention.”)

    As international travelers, we make cultural observations – including on our own country. This general observation is something we noticed with alarming clarity after 2 years away and worthy of comment on a site about creating an ideal life.

    We want everyone to live the life of their dreams, with good health, ease of movement, and the energy to do the things they love at 20, 40, 60 and beyond. (I don’t know how old you are, but as 40-somethings we are well aware of the changes of an aging body.) Overweight people have a greater challenge doing this, especially as they get older, which is why it is a subject we addressed, just like we would unhealthy relationships, unhealthy home and work environments, and unhealthy money management.

    Thank you for taking the time to write. We appreciate your candor in this touchy subject and know the solution for our country is far more complex than either of our blog posts can hope to address.

    Betsy

    • Hi, Betsy.Thank you for commenting! Here’s the response I just sent to your Facebook message:

      Hi Betsy,

      Thanks for your response! I appreciate your taking the time to read and think through these issues.

      What I have a problem with is the very common conflation of weight and health. I do agree that many people in our society have health problems, and that it would be ideal if they didn’t. But there are healthy fat people, unhealthy thin people, and all sorts of people in between.

      In fact, studies have shown that “overweight” people live longer than “normal weight” ones–which is often referred to as the “obesity paradox,” but is actually just more evidence that weight is not an accurate proxy for health.

      The philosophy I follow is called Health At Every Size, and is supported by studies that show that health, as measured by numbers such as blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar, can be improved by engaging in healthy habits, regardless of weight. You can learn more about HAES here:
      http://www.haescommunity.org/

      HAES is important to me because it focuses on health, rather than weight. And considering that intentional weight loss has a failure rate of about 95%–and often makes people both heavier and less healthy than they started out–I believe it’s necessary to have an alternative.

      I’ve posted links to some of these facts here:
      https://tutusandtinyhats.wordpress.com/fat-acceptance-101/

      Also, I highly recommend checking out the blog of Ragen Chastain, a competitive professional dancer who exercises over 20 hours a week, has won national dance championships, and weighs 284 pounds, as an example of how people can be healthy and fit at any size:
      http://danceswithfat.wordpress.com/blog/

      Thank you again for engaging thoughtfully!
      Laura

      Also, I forgot to include this in my previous message, but I’m sorry that your brother suffered a heart attack at age 35! That sounds terrifying, and I hope he is doing better now.

      I definitely understand the urge to become healthier in order to live a full life and avoid scary medical problems as much as possible. It’s just that from my life experiences and research, I have come to believe that the best way to do so is by focusing on healthy habits rather than weight, and that the promotion of weight loss (and the stigma that comes along with it) is actually dangerous to the health of many people.

      • You handled that concern-trolling pretty gracefully, but I just have to add:

        There is not a single person in this country who doesn’t realize that healthy food + exercise = more energy! It’s great that you’ve been able to eat better and recognize changes in yourself, but this is not something a *lot* of people have the ability to do. Eating healthier costs more time and money* and when you’re a single parent/working two jobs/taking care of multiple kids/have a disability, you often don’t have that luxury… hence why 1 in 3 meals for children is often fast food. It’s not like parents are unaware; they often don’t have a choice, though. (Also the same problem with exercising: when you’re busting your butt to survive, spending your free time and energy becoming more tired isn’t all that awesome an option, and most Americans don’t really have a way to bike/walk in their neighborhoods either.)

        For a developed nation, the US still has a strong problem of food security, especially where I’m at (food desserts are often a problem in Chicago.)

        I’m on a break at work so unfortunately I can’t google up a lot of statistics right now (sigh) but the blame needs to shift from acting like fatness is caused by being hedonistic and undisciplined but by our way overworked lives and our over-corporatized food culture. (Not that fatness in itself is necessarily bad, as the comment above shows, but if we’re concerned about diabetes and large-scale health concerns…)

        *Yes, I know that buying chicken from a grocery store and cooking it with vegetables is cheaper than a big mac when you’re only factoring in food costs, but when you’re factoring in time to shop, cook, and eat, yeah, McDonald’s dollar menu is waaaay cheaper when you’re broke and busy. Same with treats; buying, baking/making your own with healthier ingredients is way more expensive/time consuming than going out and buying a Twinkie.

    • Something that I find heartbreaking is when people from the country I was born in wail and beat a drum over their own personal disgusts and agendas, as if everyone in the entire world should care about What Gives Americans Boners. With healthy dose of What Americans Are Putting In Their Mouths and How Exotic!Mysterious!Other!People live entirely on edamame, stale rice and enlightenment. These people usually claim loudly that they are not racist, and then try to sell you an ebook, or something involving acai berries.

      Unfortunately my interest in travel writing has waned a bit, since every single piece of it is written by squirrelly, self-absorbed white women who think the world exists to give them warm feelings of superiority and benevolent cuddles. Since Dr Glass & I are going to Morocco, I picked up some interesting-looking travel books as research, and every single one was AmericanWhiteWomanTears(TM) over how LAZY and INEFFECTIVE Moroccans are (fifteen minutes late with a cab! Erratic restaurant service! Lack of interest in achieving Western cultural values! Le shock!) interspersed – I kid you not – with coos of condescending delight over the fact that Moroccans are sooooo laid back and totally haven’t, like, bought into the Western rat race, dude, life is so much more AUTHENTIC and GENUINE in Morocco. Like, the irony was completely, totally, utterly lost on these darlings.

      And then the WhiteLadyTears are dried delicately and the author gushes about how much more balanced and centered she feels, now that she has formed these important connections with these earthy, genuine, authentic people.

      I can’t even with travel writers. I just can’t.

      (I typed this up and then thought, “Perhaps I am being unkind,” so I googled this Betsy character, and it turns out she’s shilling an ebook on body positivity. I can only hope that she lived with a family of Mongolian herders for three weeks, or perhaps consumed acai berries, in order to achieve this remarkable level of clear-eyed self-knowledge.)

      • squirrelly, self-absorbed white women who think the world exists to give them warm feelings of superiority and benevolent cuddles.

        Uggh, yes. It’s the Eat, Pray, Love school of travel writing, which is really gross and exploitative.

        I don’t think all travel writers necessarily fall into that school, but I completely understand why you would give up on them after reading so many who do. (If you ever want to give them another try, I recommend my IRL friend Anna’s blog DIY Explorer, and Chris Guillebeau’s The Art of Non-Conformity. Also, I liked Eric Weiner’s book The Geography of Bliss, although I literally couldn’t get through the first two pages of his other book, Man Seeks God, because it was so full of cliches.)

        I’m also not inherently opposed to selling e-books–it’s a valid business strategy, and one I’ve considered myself. But since just about anyone can write one, there’s a lot of crap out there…and selling an e-book about body positivity while promoting weight loss is extremely questionable at best.

        In any case, that’s awesome that you and Dr. Glass are going to Morocco! Two of my friends studied abroad there, and they loved it. Booo on the people who fail to see the complexities of other cultures and use them solely for their own catharses.

      • Oh also! Now I am going to recommend ALL THE BOOKS. Like you do.

        Saved by Beauty: Adventures of an American Romantic in Iran by Roger Housden = wonderful, thoughtful, beautifully written. Proves that white people can actually visit other countries without being douches, and can in fact do some amazing writing, connecting with people, and appreciating cultures without romanticizing them.

        I love Meredith Hall’s memoir Without A Map. It’s not exactly travel writing, but part of it is about her travels in Europe and the Middle East.

        Also, I really liked all of William Finnegan‘s books, although I guess those would be considered more social justice-oriented journalism than travel writing. I read them years ago, so I can’t vouch for everything in them, but I do remember them being both interesting and thoughtful.

        • I LOVE EVERYONE IN THIS BAR. You are brilliant! I’ve loved some of these books, so I know I’ll like the rest. I love recommendations! Thank you so much for taking the time, you generous and lovely person.

          I love Without A Map! I never met the author, although she taught at my university. However, one of my writing professors thought that I was throwing my life away by pursuing biology, so he got Meredith Hall to sign the book for me as a graduation gift.

          Off to cultivate a crush on your IRL friend Anna, then! 😉

          • You’re welcome! 😀

            That’s so cool that Meredith Hall teaches at your university! She is an amazing writer. That’s funny about your writing professor, too.

            And Anna is really awesome. The blindfolded experimental exploring trip I mentioned in this post was something she led! 🙂 She does experimental exploring expeditions every other week, and this was the first one I could join.

    • Unhealthy people are heart-breaking…

      Hi Betsy,

      At least part of the time, I’m one of those people with limited mobility that seems to upset you so. It’s related to some intricate interworkings of nerves, so it’s not constant. But it is progressive.

      I move my fat body joyfully now, but I may not be able to do so next decade or next month or next year.

      While I accept that this would break your heart, I ask that you accept your reaction to my body as your own emotional baggage — rather than anything inherent about the joy or tragedy of my body and my existence.

      • YES. This is a really important point that I did not address sufficiently in my post. Not only are fat bodies not heartbreaking, but health or mobility problems are not necessarily heartbreaking either. And mobility problems are rarely, if ever, caused by fatness (contrary to the beliefs of some people, like one particularly vile commenter in Married With Luggage’s FB thread, who said that fat people on scooters in big box stores represent what’s wrong with our society. Ugggh.).

      • I have a chronic illness. I am “unhealthy.” My Partner has a chronic illness. He is “unhealthy.” We are both thin. Our lives are not heart-breaking – they just are. Tori summed it up perfectly, but I just wanted to agree and repeat her message by sharing my personal experiences. This pitying notion of unhealthy people as tragic is ablist and we don’t appreciate it.

  4. I am a bit confused. I’ve read through your article as well as the article over at Married with Luggage and there seems to be a disconnect.

    One the one hand there was a post about a person returning to the US and realizing the level of unhealthiness of Americans. I did not see anything at all in the entire article that indicated she was judging you or any overweight individuals. Instead, it seems like a reflection based on her experiences and perceptions upon returning. Again, no judgement or name calling at all, either in the article or her response on in the comments above.

    On the other hand you’ve written an article taking offense where none was either intended or even inferred. Then when trolls wander onto your site to hijack the conversation, call people names, and attack others you seem willing to accept this as acceptable behavior.

    Is this a site for honest discussion of ideas or is the goal to attack people out of context? Why don’t you push back to people that feel the need to be nasty instead of engage in intellectual debate.

    All this does not even touch on the true conversation about the health concerns related to weight. I believe there are real concerns that all Americans need to read about and understand. Calling out that obesity if directly related to heart disease, diabetes, and a host of additional ailments does not mean anyone is saying we should not accept everyone for their bodies. It says that if people are serious about their health their weight and activity levels must be looked at. Again there is no need to judge others, but it is unfair to say that anyone who points out the epidemic is automatically a fatist (not sure that’s a real word).

    Thank you for listening and I hope you will reconsider how you viewed the post and go back to read it without assuming she was judging anyone.

      • Laura, seriously? Did you read the actual article or are you just honed in to 1 word that clearly did not say that fat people are heartbreaking. The unhealthiness of America is heartbreaking. This is not judgement, but fact. Taking it as a personal assault when there is a real conversation available seems rather small minded and missed the entire point.

        It seems to me if you actually wanted to discuss then you could stop focusing on 1 word (taken out of context as well) from the 2,000+ on the subject and explore the topic instead of attacking. People who say fat people are unhealthy don’t need to judge you. They are simply going by the overwhelming amount of facts and information that the medical community has proven. If you want to argue with the facts, then by all means step up and go. But to attack anyone who points it out does nothing to raise your point above the level of petty and defensive.

        • She said it’s heartbreaking that the US is the “biggest.” That refers to size, not health.

          And fat does not equal unhealthy. I am indeed arguing with the “fact” that it does, which you’d see if you’d actually read my comments or the posts I linked to. I recommend reading the resources I linked to in my Fat Acceptance 101 post if you would like to learn more.

          • I am aware of the sites you’ve linked to as I’ve been reading and trying to understand this “fat acceptance movement” for some time. It seems to me the issue is one of a desire to accept who you are in the face of overwhelming facts. I read all the links and articles to understand both sides, but I simply cannot justify convincing people that obesity is not linked to a wide variety of dangerous symptoms.

            I understand that it is easier to find people willing to tell you what you want to hear and that “it’s OK to be fat”. But you are deluding yourself if you assume that “it’s ok” (aka people should not judge you) and “I am not in danger” (fat decreases your health) are the same thing.

            The people in all of the articles you cling to are trying to tell you what you want to hear. They are ignoring facts and peddling their “feel good about yourself and you’ll be ok” to sell books. They are not trying to help you.

            I view this “movement” as exactly the same as the creationist who want to trump since with the words of a single book because it helps them sleep better at night. Denying facts and telling others they should as well is irresponsible to yourself, your family, and your readers.

            No one should judge you simply because of your weight. But we should all judge you if you tell people they can be as big as they want without any repercussions on their lives, the cost of healthcare, or the people you impact daily. You have a responsibility yourself to read the facts if you intend for me and others to read the sites you hold dear.

            Here are a just a few:
            http://www.health.com/health/obesity
            http://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/tc/health-problems-associated-with-adult-obesity-topic-overview
            http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&cad=rja&ved=0CDMQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fusatoday30.usatoday.com%2Fnews%2Fhealth%2Fweightloss%2F2009-08-25-obesity-lifespan_N.htm&ei=PRqtUJSTGofL2QXKioDoBg&usg=AFQjCNHLbI5ehfaLGv9Zcf5TJU1L35kM3Q&sig2=evM0B4jFinM1bKDKYcUL5Q
            http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/04/30/us-obesity-idUSBRE83T0C820120430
            http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/hea_obe-health-obesity

            I hope you will share this with your readers as well to provide a fair and balanced perspective so everyone can make their own decisions with the facts in hand.

            • I am not interested in discussing this further. I don’t really want to debate the same stuff over and over again, so, I have decided to put in place a new comment policy that does not allow conflating weight with health. I will leave your comments, as you submitted them before I had the chance to put up the policy, but this line of discussion is closed. Thank you.

            • since Laura has declined to respond (with every good reason), I just gotta say, for someone who’s trying, you’re not trying that hard. I mean, what is difficult to understand about people deciding to love, celebrate, and work with the body they have instead of chasing after an increasingly unattainable and indefinable goal of “thin” and feeling guilty and shamed for not reaching that goal? (which doesn’t always correlate with “healthy,” especially if you’ve spent a long period of time being overweight losing weight is increasingly difficult to do and remain at).

              No one wants to be unhealthy (which doesn’t always correlate with fat), whether it’s unhealthy through stress, lack of available healthy food options, being able to regularly move our bodies purposefully and joyfully, but if someone chooses to not pursue “health” as a goal because they don’t have the time, resources, or energy, that is THEIR CHOICE, which affects no one else.

              especially when you then follow with disdain and comparing us to a creationist movement?

              ugh.

    • the difference between pointing out facts of unhealthiness in our country and what Betsy commented on isn’t just the one word “heartbreaking,” but a general blame on unhealthiness on individuals (and their lack of knowledge/willingness/willpower/etc) instead of a culture that systematically sets us up to be unhealthy through being overworked, underinsured, overstressed, and quite often without access to healthier (non-overprocessed, non-GMO, fresh) foods, time to prepare them, or time to enjoy exercise for fun/health/destressing.

      those ARE major issues–they are the root of the majority of the health problems in this country, period. trust us–as individuals, we are making the best and most informed choices we can with what resources we are given (our health, our genetics, our time, our money). it’s not like there is a single fat OR unhealthy person (though they are NOT necessarily the same thing) who doesn’t realize their options. but as long as we focus on people’s moral failings for not being Mega Healthy (no matter how hard or how unattainable it is for us), we’ll continue to ignore the very real systems that are profiting off that narrative of people just simply being lazy slobs who don’t care about their own well being.

      When millions of people are underpaid/overworked/underinsured at corporations like, say, McDonalds, then people will continue to have to take short cuts with their health/food/time just to be able to get by and that system heavily perpetuates itself…but that doesn’t sell weight-loss magazine ads or gym subscriptions, so, not as popular.

        • no problem~
          I have this conversation a lot with a very good friend who is both very progressive and very interested in the culture and corporatization of food, but also has had a hard time “getting” why everyone doesn’t have the time/money/energy/resources to cook every meal from scratch with local and organic ingredients.

          it’s not like we don’t know that stuff tastes better and has more nutrients to give us more energy, but…yeah. poverty and health are strongly tied in this country.

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