We need to talk about how social and economic structures impact health.

lake in the woods

Within the fat acceptance and HAES movements, there has been a growing realization that health is much more complicated than personal diet and exercise choices–that we can’t talk seriously about health without talking about the social and economic barriers that affect it on both the personal and public levels. I’m really glad that we’re talking about these structural forces, and I’d love to see more in-depth discussions, both within and outside of our communities.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, especially after a wonderful hike I went on last weekend. I just feel so in my element when I’m in the woods, and I get a great workout without consciously trying. There’s something so peaceful, so natural about being surrounded by trees, coming across everything from tiny frogs to wildflowers and heart-shaped leaves. There’s magic in the woods, the kind that doesn’t go away when you grow up.

Coming home from a simultaneously exhilarating and relaxing hike, I couldn’t help but think, contrary to conventional wisdom, how little of my health is actually within my control. Yes, healthy habits are still our best shot at improving and maintaining health. Yes, there are certainly things I can do differently, and I’m working on them. But there are so many structural limits that impact my health, and I imagine how they could be different:

– If working about 20 hours/week were standard, I could work mornings and then hike most afternoons. Or, during the winter, snowshoe or cross-country ski. I live in the city and don’t have a car (and don’t want one)–but if there were high-speed, frequent, reliable trains from the city to the woods, I could easily get out into nature on a regular basis, or even live out there and commute into the city. This would make it a lot easier to engage in the types of exercise that feel easy and natural for me, and I have a feeling I’d feel better all-around if I were getting a higher dose of Vitamin Nature. Continue reading

What being a fat woman is really like

My glamorous fat life: hanging out on a farm after going to the beach for my birthday last summer

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?

Continue reading