Monday, 17 March 2014

What it's like being a fat woman

Image source here

Hanging out on Twitter a couple of weeks ago, I saw that Bethany from Arched Eyebrow had linked to an article on the Cosmo website about the realities of being a fat woman.  I gave it a read and, like her, was impressed that a mainstream womens media outlet was publishing something so, well, un-fat-phobic.

I have my own issues at the moment around fatness.  I waver between believing everyone should be able to self-identify how they want, and believing that perhaps I'm just not fat enough for the label.  I'm a 14/16/18 depending on where I shop - on the lower reaches of what's considered plus size, but still definitely plus - but because I have a pretty classic hourglass figure (insanely out of proportion huge boobs aside) I can 'pass' as being skinnier than I actually am.  I acknowledge that I do have a huge degree of thin privilege compared to a lot of fat women so  I sometimes wonder if I am 'allowed' to claim that label.  But when I started thinking about these questions I realised that they felt very relevant to my experiences and life.  So here are my answers.

How do you feel when other women around you complain about feeling/being fat?
When it happens at all, I tune it out, but I tend not to spend much time with women who say anything like that.  I generally feel bad for women who feel that way, because they've been so brainwashed into believing that it's their bodies which are wrong rather than society's perceptions.  But I also get annoyed about the implication that fat = bad/ugly, especially as it's often someone slimmer than me complaining.  If they think they are bad/ugly then what must they think of me?

How has your body image changed since high school? College?
My body image as a teenager was shocklingly bad.  I used to drape myself in baggy t-shirts, because I thought that would disguise my size.  Of course, what it actually did was make me look far more enormous than I actually was.  When I was about 17 I started to figure out that maybe tighter-fitting clothes would look better and, once I worked that out, I began to like my body a bit more.  If you can't already tell, my body image is closely tied to fashion and what I wear; my path to true body positivity really began when I found my style groove in my late twenties and then, a couple of years later, when I read my first fatshion blogs and saw bodies that reflected my own.  I can't emphasise how important this was to me, and how much it helped me accept and love my body.

Have you tried dieting? What happened?
Not with any real effort behind it.  I tried Weight Watchers for about a week in my mid-20s but realised pretty quickly that, actually, I prefer being fat and full to slightly less fat and hungry.

Do you think in your case your weight is partly or entirely genetic?
Honestly, I don't think it matters either way.  Framing fat as a genetic issue implies that the fat person is not to blame, and that in turn implies that there is blame to be attached to being fat; that it's something to be ashamed of.

Do you consider yourself healthy? Have there been instances where people assumed you were unhealthy?
I have perfect blood pressure, normal cholesterol and blood sugar, I'm active and fit.  So yes, I'd consider myself healthy.  Could I do more?  Sure.  But so could almost everyone I know, regardless of their size.

Are your parents both supportive of you at the weight you’re at? Have they always been?
I can only recall one time when either of them mentioned my weight - I must have been about 12 or 13, just hitting puberty, and although it was a throwaway comment it haunted me for years and made me feel pretty shitty about myself.  However as an older teen and an adult, neither of them have ever been anything other than supportive.

How do you think retailers can improve clothes for plus-size people?
I went on an epic Twitter rant recently when I discovered that H&M have stopped doing any size above 16 in their main range (which, as anyone who shops at H&M regularly will know, is more like a size 12 or 14 in actual sizes).  Why a retailer would decide to limit their customers so significantly is beyond me - they used to go up to a 22 in their main women's line, so this must surely have a massive impact on their sales.  So retailers actually selling clothes in plus-sizes would be a good start.

Do you think plus-size women are judged differently than plus-sized men are? How?
Inevitably, because plus-size women are working against the twin oppressions of fat-hate and misogyny.  There was a great passage in Hadley Freeman's new book, Be Awesome, where she is addressing the seeming contradiction of the tabloids' approach to the female body (which must always be, in their parlance, either 'scary skinny' or 'flaunting curves'): "There is always going to be something wrong with your body... because it is a grown-up woman's body... The constant criticism of the female body proves that its critics aren't trying to alter the female body - they just don't want a female body at all."  I think if more women could recognise this truth, there would be a good deal more of us who were happy in our own skin.

Do you think there’s ever a right way or time to express concern about someone’s weight?
Nope, not at all. The only person who has a right to express concern about someone's weight is their doctor.

What are the worst things people have said to you about your body?
I work hard to forget them so I won't mention them here.

What have people said (or do you wish they’d say) that would compliment your body or appearance?
I have almost no hang-ups about my body and so compliments about it aren't something I need to hear because I already think it's fine.  But on the flip side, I really hate being asked, "Have you lost weight?" because what the hell am I meant to say?  Clearly the answer they're looking for is, "Yes, thank you!" but the honest answer would be, "Yeah, maybe, because my IBS has been terrible lately and I'm struggling to eat without being very ill.  It sucks, right?"

Do you find yourself hanging out with women who are closer to your size?
No, not at all, most of my friends are skinnier than I am but it's rarely an issue for me.  In fact, a real watershed moment in accepting my body was during a discussion with a very slim friend about thigh rub in summer.  I'd had this weird reserve of self-hate about it and realising that she - at size 8 - had exactly the same issue as me did so much for my self-esteem.  I think it's important to recognise that everyone, no matter what their weight or shape, has hang-ups about their body.  Media coverage of the female body (back to that scary skinny/flaunting curves dichotomy again) makes it clear that it's impossible for anyone to meet their standards.  For me, though, there is a liberation in the idea: if everyone's bodies are wrong, that means no-one's is.

How has your weight affected your sex life, if at all?
Bearing in mind the fact that my parents and brother read this blog, I might need to be careful what I say here!  Essentially my answer is, not at all.  I've always been sexually confident - my theory being that if they've taken their clothes off already, they're not going to run screaming at the sight of my belly or thighs - but being extremely well-endowed in the chest can lead to some comic jiggling.  Aaaand now I feel awkward.  Apologies all for the mental image.

When you’ve been single, has your weight affected your dating life?
No, the only thing that's affected my dating life is my extreme introversion and terror of meeting new people.

Do you feel weird if the guy you’re with only dates larger women?
A couple of the guys I've dated have definitely had a type, but so do lots of people and who am I to judge that?  That being said, I've never felt fetishised, which would be more problematic for me.

Do you feel weird if he’s only dated slimmer women before you?
I actually did feel a bit weird when I realised that my boyfriend had only dated slimmer women before meeting me.  I had a fleeting thought of, "What the hell does he see in me?".  But then I reminded myself that I'm awesome, and he clearly thinks so too, so I didn't stay worried for long.


  1. Holla at my fellow big-boobed sister! Comic jiggling cannot be avoided haha. I think that this post is brilliant and it makes me want to be more like you. I love how absolutely proud of your beautiful body you are and I wish I could do the same. I also think it's great that you picked up on women having to deal with fat-shaming AND misogyny and the quote about not wanting female bodies is so interesting. I often wonder if the power of women's bodies being able to bear children is far too much of a threat to patriarchy that we need to be rendered invisible by whatever means possible (body criticism is an excellent way to do this). Sorry I'm rambling now, but I loved this post and I've pinned it :)

    1. Thank you :)

      I think the endless body policing and criticism of women's bodies is about exactly that: rendering women invisible. It is interesting to me (and by interesting, I mean infuriating) that recent fashions for female bodies have been about us taking up as little space as possible in society, about making us small. Well, frankly, fuck that. It's why fat is a feminist issue.

    2. For an individual man, talking about 'the patriarchy' is particularly bewildering because it's hard to know how to address the issue without appearing to be part of the problem. Also, as much as the fashion industry is misogynistic, it is largely dominated by women and gay men - aren't the Anna Wintours and Giorgio Armanis of this world as much to blame too?

    3. The fashion industry - dominated by women as it is - still operates within the patriarchal structure of society. And believe me, gay men can be THE most misogynistic.

      As for what individual men can do in terms of addressing the patriarchal power structures - be an ally, be a feminist, speak out when you see inequality and raise your daughters and sons to be feminists too. It's important to also realise that many men are disadvantaged and oppressed by patriarchy too, for example pressured to conform to a narrow view of what it means to be a man/be masculine. And all the more so if you're a man who happens to not be white, middle class, wealthy and Western.

    4. Indeed. It's all the more pernicious because if you're not white, middle class, wealthy and Western, people from Western countries will sometimes make excuses for holding you to a lower standard than Western men are held. For example, many regard the appalling state of womens' education and treatment in much of the Arab world and southern to south-eastern Asia as somehow a 'cultural issue' and that as Westerners we shouldn't criticise it because we 'don't understand their culture'. Some African leaders have very conveniently cried 'neo imperialism' against Western governments that have criticised their poor records on human rights as a means to silence such criticism - Yahya Jammeh of The Gambia being a prime example. Since when has treating women inhumanely been a rich cultural tradition that should be preserved from the big bad ravages of British values?

      Too many misogynists hiding behind the fig leaf of multiculturalism!.

    5. For years, this was one of the 'arguments' against criminalising or educating about FGM - that it was a cultural issue and therefore we shouldn't intervene.

  2. I love this. I think if it were not for some health issues I would have less of an issue with my weight, though I am by no means big. Though to be honest my parents (due to family health issues so with best of intentions) did often comment on my weight when I was a teenager, and my family are really into food so I have a whole pile of weird little issues which oddly don't make me judge others so much, but REALLY make me judge myself. It is kind of weird. I'm working on it.