Love Your Fat Self

Rejecting fear, loathing, and sacrifice

  • Photo of Morgan

    photo by Christina Alderman,
  • Anna

    photo by Anna Reid
  • Substancia

    photo by Substantia Jones
  • Photo of Bronwen

    photo by Bronwen Hyde

  • Photo of Morgan
  • Anna
  • Substancia
  • Photo of Bronwen

Gareth looks up from her crochet project just as the train pulls into the Brooklyn Jay Street station, where she must get off and switch across the platform for the A train to Manhattan. She stuffs the yarn into her new orange leather clutch and positions herself in front of the door, waiting for it to open.

“Yeah, that’s right, get off the train, you fat bitch!” yells a man sitting nearby. He looks to be in his 40s or 50s, dressed in jeans and a leather coat, possibly drunk but not obviously so. His words hang in the air like a noxious gas. A woman nearby gasps, clearly offended. An older man with white hair and a friendly, wrinkled face shakes his head silently. Two schoolkids in puffy jackets muffle their giggles with their hands.

It feels like it takes the doors a year to open. Gareth has heard this kind of thing so often that the effect is dulled at first. Later she will relive this moment in her head many times over, articulating the multitude of sassy responses she could have spat back, but ultimately this reflection will do nothing except give her the sharp stab of familiar pain. It is loneliness so deep that she must turn it into anger in order to survive.

Gareth is my best friend, and, yes, she is obese by clinical standards. She is also brilliant, kind, popular, magnetic, and in a loving relationship. She dresses up to go out on Saturday nights, dances her ass off, gets the occasional free drink from a hopeful guy. She is a powerhouse at the office, blazing through her daily tasks with efficiency and conscientiousness. She is an activist and an actor—mentoring a little girl with AIDS, marching in prochoice rallies, writing and performing monologues in off-Broadway productions.

There is nothing atypical about Gareth’s biography. In fact, even at her present size, she is certainly not unusual: 66 percent of U.S. adults age 20 and older are overweight or obese. She grew up in Connecticut in a divorced, middle-class family, made it to New York City as soon as she could, excelled in college, moved to Brooklyn, and got an administrative job at a nonprofit. This is not a woman who has “checked out,” contrary to what so many thin people assume about those who are fat. She doesn’t sit at home and lament her size. She isn’t passive or embarrassed. She certainly isn’t lazy. She spends her time trying to make the world a better place and figuring out how the hell she fits into it.

On paper, she is a perfect girl. To the ignorant, naked eye, she is flawed.

Laura Schleifer
7/15/2009 4:50:23 PM

Adheid, check your facts. Many people that you might consider overweight also enjoy eating vegetables and tofu. In fact, some of them live entirely on that type of food. If you have a genetic disposition to be heavier, or a thyroid malfunction, or any other number of reasons, then your outer appearance will be no indication of your diet...and in fact, it's very common that such people have the strictest diets of all, since anything even approaching a "normal" diet would send them spinning into out-of-control obesity. Bradley, thanks for your comment on the morality/immorality of fat vs. thin. You are absolutely right--the only way that morality should come into play is if your weight is caused by harming others. So if you are thin because you get your exercise killing people--or you're heavy because you take food away from others who need it, or you eat a lot of slaughtered animals, then you could argue that it's a morality issue. Otherwise, to quote Gareth: "Let the fat/skinny bitches/bastards shut up!".

12/25/2008 9:53:36 PM

I am a thin person and I have to say that I am far from a boring dinner guest. What I eat has nothing to do with how fun I am. I also enjoy my food and cooking for others. I also enjoy eating vegetables and tofu. I don't always eat healthy things it's just that when I don't, I try to limit my intake. Not just because I'm afraid of fat as so many people would like to think, but because eating junk in excess is not healthy. Go on ahead with your fat love, but don't turn my lifestyle into a taboo of unenjoyment to make yourself feel better about it.

3/25/2008 12:00:00 AM

Notice how the previous commenter just pushes the whole problem back a level...for him or her, following the author of the article, there is not an issue of weight (fat people are immoral while skinny people are moral), but he or she clearly diverges from the author in holding that there IS an issue of fitness (physically unfit people, fat or skinny, are immoral while fit people, fat or skinny, are moral). The commenter misses the point...there's nothing moral or immoral about people's bodies, whether fat, skinny, fit, unfit, etc.; bodies, in and of themselves, don't have a moral status. (If someone is skinny because he spend all of his day running around killing people, thereby losing weight from all of the running around...his thinness might acquire some residual immoral status; but there is nothing intrinsically immoral about.) A difficulty, of course, philosophically is to comport that view with a naturalistic view of the world. If naturalism means that people are nothing more than their bodies, and there's nothing moral about people's bodies, then what is there about a person that can have moral status? A person just is her body, and bodies don't have moral status. There is surely a way to solve the problem (probably by coming up with a more nuanced understanding of what it means to be a person in a naturalistic framework), it's just that nobody's found it yet (or at least nobody's convincingly argued for it yet).

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