Through this post from Bethany, I found out about a surprisingly fat-positive interview that was recently published in Cosmo (!). Bethany and a bunch of other bloggers decided to answer the same questions, so here are my answers! You can find a roundup of all the participating bloggers here at Charlotte’s blog.
How do you feel when other women around you complain about feeling/being fat?
Luckily, this doesn’t happen to me often–and when it does, it usually involves friends writing about their body image struggles in their own online spaces, which I could choose to stop following if I wanted to. I feel simultaneously frustrated–because fat is not a bad thing, and I’m usually bigger than the person doing the complaining!–and understanding, because the pull of weight loss culture is so strong, and I remember what it was like to be utterly convinced that I needed to be thin to be attractive and healthy.
How has your body image changed since high school? College?
SO MUCH. In middle school and high school, I hated my body–even though I also enjoyed dressing up, and never had much desire to hide behind baggy or plain clothing. I remember stepping on the scale at the doctor’s office when I was 17, and seeing it hit 201–and that felt like the worst thing ever. In my mind, 200 lbs was hideous, far beyond the realm of normal people, and crossing that line made me officially, terribly, disgustingly fat (which seems funny now, because I weigh about 240 and am much happier with my body!).
I spent most of college dieting on and off before I came across Shapely Prose through the feminist blog-o-sphere, and my mind was blown. It took some time to truly accept everything I was learning, but when I did, it made such a difference. I still have bad body-image days occasionally, but for the most part, I’m happy with how I look. When I was younger, I never could have imagined that!
Have you tried dieting? What happened?
I started dieting fairly late, compared to the experiences of most fat women I know. In eighth grade, I went through a phase where I did ten minutes of crunches a day in hopes of shrinking my stomach–but I didn’t start seriously dieting until senior year of high school, and then I was doing it “for my health.” I never did anything really drastic, but obsessing over the calories in everything and going to the gym constantly just wasn’t sustainable for very long.
In college, I kept falling off the wagon and then starting again, yo-yo-ing up and down within a range of 40 or so pounds–until I learned about fat acceptance and stopped altogether. My weight settled about about 180 then, although a few years later I ended up gaining weight for unrelated reasons, and who knows if that was partly affected by the way dieting can change people’s metabolisms?
Do you think in your case your weight is partly or entirely genetic?
It’s definitely at least partly genetic–I come from a long line of zaftig Eastern European Jews. We needed that fat to survive the winters in Russia!
Do you consider yourself healthy? Have there been instances where people assumed you were unhealthy?
More or less. I love so many forms of movement–yoga, dancing, swimming, hiking, ice skating, cross-country skiing, kayaking, hula hooping, aerial acrobatics–but depending on how busy or exhausted I am, and how much money I have, I don’t always do them as often as I would like. I also struggle sometimes with eating the foods that make my body feel best, but overall, I feel pretty healthy–and I also feel like a big determinant of my health is structural factors that are outside of my control.
When I’m in environments like a yoga retreat or dance camp where there’s delicious, balanced food available, and where I’m surrounded by nature, I feel so much happier and healthier. And then I go back to everyday life, where I have to work and cook my own food and deal with the stress of living in a post-employment economy, and it all takes a toll on me. Stress is a major thing that impacts people’s health, and I think we don’t talk about it enough as a public health issue–both the stress of living with fat stigma, and the various forms of stress that almost everyone deals with under late-stage capitalism, but that are worse for poor and working class people, single mothers, people of color, and queer or transgender people.
As for people assuming I’m unhealthy, that hasn’t happened to me much–or if it has, it’s been subtle enough that I don’t notice it.
Are your parents both supportive of you at the weight you’re at? Have they always been?
I’m lucky that I grew up with parents who always emphasized that I was beautiful exactly how I was, and never kept scales in the house. When I was dieting, my parents encouraged me, because at the time they genuinely thought it was the best thing for my health–but when I started learning about fat acceptance, my mom did too, and we’ve gone on that journey together. I’m not sure about my dad, because we don’t really talk about weight-related stuff, but both of my parents are very supportive of me overall, and I’m grateful for that.
How do you think retailers can improve clothes for plus-size people?
SELL PLUS SIZE CLOTHES IN BRICK AND MORTAR STORES. Seriously, I can’t emphasize that one enough. I feel like I have a lot of options online, but it’s almost impossible to find anything my size in a store in my area, and that’s really frustrating. It’s especially depressing to walk into a store like H&M, which has a small plus size section that’s so much blander and less interesting than the rest of the store. Seriously, just start making all the clothing in all the sizes already.
Also, I recognize that I have a fair amount of privilege as someone who usually wears a size 22. So many plus size lines stop at 24 or 26, and that leaves a lot of people out. So my other advice to retailers would be to expand plus size lines to include sizes 28, 30, 32, and beyond. Everyone deserves to be able to find clothing in their size.
Do you think plus-size women are judged differently than plus-sized men are? How?
Definitely. On the individual level, there are plenty of fat men who deal with a lot of fat-phobia in their lives. But on a larger social level, women are definitely held to a higher standard, because women are told over and over again that our bodies exist to be pretty for other people–especially straight men. So the body policing that nearly all women face intersects with fat-phobia in a way that makes it much harder to be a fat woman than a fat man in our society.
I really like how S. Bear Bergman, a transgender person who has experienced being read as both male and female while fat, writes about their experiences with this double standard.
Do you think there’s an assumption made/stereotype that exists about plus-size people? How would you respond to it?
Ha, just one assumption? There are so many stereotypes and assumptions about fat people that I don’t even know where to start! I would respond by quoting the awesome fat activist Marilyn Wann: “The only thing you can tell for sure by looking at a fat person is the degree of your own bias against fat people.”
Do you think there’s ever a right way or time to express concern about someone’s weight?
Nope. There are some situations where it’s appropriate to express concern for someone’s health–like if you’re their doctor–but weight =! health, and using it as a proxy is both lazy and dangerous.
What are the worst things people have said to you about your body?
In seventh grade, our class was watching a video about wild animals, and a hippo came on screen. One of my classmates exclaimed, “That’s (my last name)!”
It still hurts a bit to remember that. But I’m lucky that pretty much all the terrible things people said about my body were from middle school, and since then, the fat-phobia I’ve dealt with has been more from society as a whole than from specific, name-calling people.
How did you respond?
Honestly, I don’t remember, but I don’t think I said anything.
What have people said (or do you wish they’d say) that would compliment your body or appearance?
Not to toot my own horn, but…toot toot! 😉 I get so many compliments on my outfits and accessories, both from friends and from complete strangers. People may think that Boston is a cold place, but they haven’t tried walking around it while wearing a giant glitter bow or a tiny hat! I’ve even gotten compliments on items of clothing that I felt were pretty mundane, like dark purple corduroy skinny pants.
Do you find yourself hanging out with women who are closer to your size?
Yes and no. I have friends of varying sizes, and I often find that I’m the fattest person in a group while hanging out–but it doesn’t bother me, because my friends are awesome people who don’t discriminate based on size.
I’ve also become part of a fat community in Boston, and it’s been wonderful to hang out with other politicized fatties (and swap clothing!) There’s definitely a special sense of comfort and solidarity that I feel in a group of fat people.
How has your weight affected your sex life, if at all?
When you’ve been single, has your weight affected your dating life?
It hasn’t affected my actual experiences, but it has affected how I’ve perceived those experiences. Until I met my current (amazing!) partner, I always had a hard time finding people to date, regardless of my size and regardless of how I felt about my body. Finding fat acceptance and coming to love my body gave me one less insecurity to worry about, but it didn’t take away all my insecurities–and it didn’t magically make dating easier, because so much of that is sheer dumb luck.
Nor did being temporarily thinner in college make dating any easier. I got down to about 155 pounds for a while, and finally experienced being able to fit into most straight size clothing and having a BMI that was almost “normal”–but adoring guys didn’t magically come out of the woodwork. I still got as much romantic attention as I always had, which was very little.
Do you feel weird if the guy you’re with only dates larger women?
Nope. Attraction is subjective and weird, and some people are attracted to a pretty narrow range of body types, whereas other people are attracted to a broad range, or are mainly attracted to factors other than body shape/size. And a person’s dating history doesn’t necessarily represent the entire range of their attractions–it only represents the people who have also been attracted to them. So I don’t worry too much about a partner’s previous dating history either way.
Do you feel weird if he’s only dated slimmer women before you?
Nope, see above.