If you had the misfortune of stumbling onto ‘media personality’ Louise Wallace’s anti-fat rant on The AM Show recently (no I’m not linking to it because it’s gross), so here is a palate cleanser – it’s my story of over-coming fatphobia towards my own body …
As someone over a size 12 I am not ‘normal’, according Louise Wallace, who is clearly an expert because she made it onto the Beauty Standard’s ultimate seal of approval, TV. She doesn’t think I should be in photoshoots or on billboards, in case it makes other people feel OK about themselves as well.
But, what Louise and many other so-called experts haven’t grasped is that their disgust towards us doesn’t solve fatness. Every single fat person has been told in any and every way that their body is not acceptable. If ‘fat’ was really a choice, what kind of masochist would choose it, in a society that treats them as sub-human?
Thin people like Louise have no idea the lengths those in naturally bigger bodies go to in order to contort themselves into a more palatable body shape. Eating disorders among fat people are hugely under-diagnosed – and yet fat people are most vulnerable to disordered eating, because of the condemnation they have absorbed from every direction.
That is my story. For me, learning kindness towards my body was a long road, after a life-time of self-loathing. I went on my first diet at the age of 10, and was counting calories by the time I was 13.
From that early age, I learned to ignore my body’s natural indications of hunger, in favour of the Regime. I gave away ownership of my body, and gave all the power to food. This meant I developed a very unhealthy relationship with food and my body, and ricocheted between restriction and binging.
Today, diets have been rebranded as ‘detoxes’ or ‘clean eating’, but the behaviours are the same: restricted eating, a hyper consciousness towards food, and guilt.
Any shame-based behaviour lends itself towards secrecy: I became a very good secret eater – never eating the ‘bad’ foods in public, but binging in private. This shame turned inwards and became self-loathing and hate. I actually thought I was obligated to hate what I saw in the mirror, in order to motivate me to ‘do better’.
By the time I was in my early twenties, body-loathing had become an oppressive presence in my life that deeply affected my self-esteem and confidence. The more I tried to diet, the more I binged. And the shame of a binge is all-consuming.
One day, I literally lay on the floor, completely exhausted by the daily battle against my body. I said to God: ‘I can’t do this anymore, I’m giving it all to you, no matter what happens’.
Anyone who has ever decided to change an addictive pattern will know it feels like jumping off a cliff not knowing where you are going to land – genuinely feeling like you might die.
This is the way, walk in it
The next day I woke up and I felt a voice whisper within: ‘I want you to look in the mirror and say you are beautiful’. I couldn’t do it, of course. It took my six months before I could mumble, ‘You’re beautiful’, before turning away, embarrassed for myself.
But this was the beginning of an intense and personal journey with God. When I stopped beating myself up and started showing myself compassion, the natural overflow was that I treated my body better.
Unlearning diet culture was not easy. It meant giving up all the false promises. It meant examining my emotional eating, and how I channel my anxieties into self-loathing. It was hard. But it was not as hard as dieting.
I feel healthier now than when I was smaller, but I don’t think that’s the point. One of the things I hear most often is ‘I accept different body sizes as long as they’re a healthy’. This is an insipid part of fatphobia – why is it our business to judge another person’s health? Even if they have made unhealthy choices, does that mean we should not honour the imago dei in them and treat them with dignity, respect and acceptance?
Even if they have eaten themselves fat, should we not give them the dignity of chairs that fit them and a health system that sees them as human beings and not just as the problem of ‘fat’?
Perhaps the deepest part of my journey – one I continue on to this day – was to reclaim kindness as the ‘normal’ attitude towards my body. We are so conditioned towards self-loathing that we can all immediately think of parts of our body we hate. But reflecting on the parts we like, feels vain and wrong.
Turning away from diet culture and choosing self-acceptance actually feels really dangerous, because it is rejecting the cultural narrative from people like Louise that says if only you could tame your unruly body, you will be loved, valid and accepted.
But if we deliberately and persistently turn away from the cultural megaphone, and allow the voice of acceptance into our lives, we discover that we already have what we have been chasing all along. Love and acceptance is already available to us, just as we are.
In some ways I feel for people like Louise – they are so deeply enslaved to the (literal) treadmill of the Beauty Standard, they can’t get off and experience the deep rest of knowing they are actually OK just as they are. We are all OK. We are God’s children.
Ingrid Barratt has worked as a writer for the Salvation Army for 10 years, as well as in mental health. She currently works in advocacy for women. Her writing focuses on Christian feminism and female-centred conversations. She is a chain-tea drinker, who loves a deep convo and enjoys having fun(damental rights for women).
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