Friday, July 01, 2016

NPR's This American Life: "Tell Me I'm Fat"

National Public Radio's This American Life program recently broadcast a show called "Tell Me I'm Fat." On their website, it's described like this:

The way people talk about being fat is shifting. With one-third of Americans classified as overweight, and another third as obese, and almost none of us losing weight and keeping it off, maybe it’s time to rethink the way we see being fat. A show inspired by Lindy West’s book Shrill.

I haven't read West's book, but I listened to this episode and was impressed with the forthright way the storytellers talk about being fat and how others respond to fat people. The episode features a lot of honesty and a lot of bravery. (I was disappointed and angered to find out that Dan Savage, who I respect, has a history of shaming fat people and making jokes about us.)

One early point West makes is that there's a coming out process to declaring your fatness. But it's not coming out to others, who can see that you're fat. It's coming out to yourself. We fat people often think of ourselves as thin people who are going to fix the problem any day now. We don't want to claim our bodies as they are, so we try to live in a future when we will have shed what we see as extra pounds that aren't really ours. When we stop living in this denial, we can become more comfortable with ourselves and how others see us. West describes her coming out as the point at which she told friends to please just call her "fat." Not "overweight" or "heavy" or anything else; just "fat." It's the reality of who she is and she's done pretending that she's not really living in her body.

Lindy West is way ahead of me.

December 2011
I was a skinny kid, a thin young adult and didn't start to wrestle with weight until my mid-30's when I began restricting food and going to the gym at 5:30 a.m. five days a week. In 2008 I got married later than most: I was going on 42 years old. Like many women I was a slim bride but by my divorce had become straight-up fat. 

In the final seven months of my five-year marriage, I put about 45 pounds on my five foot, two-inch (57 cm) frame. In 2013, two months after my then-husband ended our marriage, I hit 50 pounds up. Yes, I gained 50 pounds (that's over 22 kg) in nine months, almost like pregnancy pounds.

I thought it was temporary. I saw that weight as a temporary response to specific conditions in my life that I would overcome and move past. I willingly bought size 18 and XXL clothes in 2013, knowing I'd only need them for a year at the most. Never having been fat before, I had no idea how hard it would be to lose weight. Never having been 47 before, I didn't know how much harder it is to lose weight in middle-age. I've been learning.

In 2015, a severe health problem forced me to cut out sugar, grains and dairy. By last fall, I had made it down to size 14 and could feel size 12 right around the corner.

I still don't know what happened in January 2016. Financial stress? Fear of being attractive to men again? Not being ready to shed my protective layer of fat? Some other subconscious self-sabotage? Whatever it was, I began eating sweets again and my health problem had improved enough that I could now get away with it -- unfortunately. I went back into depression and eating sweets and feeling bad about myself and eating more sweets and struggling with depression and feeling out of control. By spring, I was back up to size 16:

June 2016
I am not at all with Lindy West in accepting myself as a fat person. I wish I were. It would be so much better to be at peace with where I am, although I've actually been calling myself "fat" all along, wearing my big body like a costume. I have proclaimed my fatness on this blog, in person, in the doctor's office and everywhere. I'm fat. Of course, I'm fat. No one can deny this. But in my mind I keep adding the word "temporarily" to the phrase. I've accepted my fatness, even to the point of posting fat pictures of myself online, because I want there to be a record of how fat I was before I lost all the weight again. And there it is: I'm living in a future where I'm thin again, just like the people Lindy West describes as being in denial.

I'll turn 50 on July 24th, which would be the perfect time to declare that I love myself completely, exactly the way I am, but I still believe who I really am is that thin person I was up until four years ago. I admit that's delusional. Even if I somehow dropped 50 pounds next month, I wouldn't have the same body I had at age 46. I wonder if this is how post-pregnancy women feel: bewildered that years later, they still haven't gotten back their "true" slim body, certain that they aren't going to be this big forever, but unable to find their way back. The weight's going to disappear any month now, right?

At the age of almost 50 years old, I've finally joined the yo-yo dieters. I had managed to avoid that pattern for so long, but here it is. I have a choice as I face my landmark birthday: come out of the closet as a fat person, or keep struggling with myself indefinitely.

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