Two days ago Cosmopolitan.com published an article called “What Being a Fat Woman Is Really Like” featuring questions and answers from two self-identified fat women. Some of the feedback received was an enthusiastic applause at Cosmo’s inclusion of body-positive voices, ones often not seen and heard in mainstream media. Others felt offended by the ideas those voices offered. I saw some women say that these women were “just making excuses” and didn’t discuss the “tolls” that being fat had on their lives. The biggest argument was “these women don’t represent me.”
In defense of the original article, they formatted it as an interview, most definitely putting forth that these were two women’s perspectives. But we need these perspectives, and we need even more perspectives into this topic. Being a fat woman surely unites us in some experiences, but we are all individuals with different histories, beliefs, and ways of being. When I saw Claire ask on Twitter if other women wanted to answer the exact same questions, I jumped on board. We don’t need to feel confined or misrepresented; we can in fact speak out our own experiences to show the complexities of being a fat woman. (That said, I totally DO appreciate the perspectives those women in the original article shared).
Below are my answers to the same questions as the original article.
How do you feel when other women around you complain about feeling/being fat?
It used to really bother me. Now I notice it, and sometimes it gets to me and sometimes it doesn’t. I recognize that they are participating in a narrative that happens so much around the idea of fatness and body image. Sometimes people don’t even realize they are participating in this and that it may be hurtful to themselves and others. I know that really, in instances where non-fat people “feel fat”, fatness is being connected to other things, and this is the part that hurts. Almost always when someone says they “feel fat” it’s because they “ate too much”, are bloated, or their clothes are tight. “Fatter” than your norm may not equate being “fat” in society. Those that are fat and complain about being fat, that’s their feelings to feel, and as long as they do not ask me to have those same feelings about my body, then I don’t get personally upset (although I do hope everyone has a positive relationship with their body, and I’ll tell someone I can’t talk about bodies negatively or dieting). Actually I think the phrase that makes me the most upset is when people say they are “being a fat kid” or getting in touch with their “inner fatty” when they eat certain foods or have a lazy day. THAT makes me mad.
How has your body image changed since high school? College?
I’ve been fat my entire life, but my worst point of body confidence and body image was during high school. High school is also the time when I lost the most weight. In high school, almost every boy I liked did not return the admiration. My friends had smaller bodies and loud personalities, and I told myself that they were infinitely more interesting than me. This was partly body image and partly lack of confidence and lack of allowing myself to have and express my own interests. My cousin had a blog where she chronicled her ana experiences. I saw her lose weight, and I wanted to do the same. She was near 105lbs and every boy I liked found her attractive. My jealousy and idolization of her body definitely impacted my actions. I think I lost around 58lbs by skipping meals, working out, and limiting my calorie intake to sometimes 400 calories a day. Some things I learned from that experience: my friends’ moms were often the ones who noticed and congratulated me and I still had the same experience when it came to relationships and hiding behind friends. My body changed, but I was still fat, and I was hiding more of myself than ever. In college I gained the weight back plus some. I had more confidence in my other areas of life, but I pretty much ignored my body. I feel like I separated myself from it, wore my uniform of jeans and t-shirt and focused on my friends and school. It wasn’t until after college, at age 22, that I started being more reflective about myself, what I wanted from life, and what I could do. Grad school skyrocketed by confidence, along with finding so, so many fat fashion blogs. It’s odd how easy it is to find another person your exact same size or larger or differently shaped as attractive and pretty, but you hold that as “unattainable” to you. I started to photograph myself, and seeing myself and other fat women so often majorly impacted my body image. I started with “slimming” camera angles and editing out fat rolls, and now I’ve become so comfortable with what I look like, rolls included, AND I see beauty there. I recognize beauty in myself because I recognize beauty in others.
Have you tried dieting? What happened?
Yes, there’s the example above that lasted for about 6-7 months of my life. When I was in the fifth grade I was on a diet after a stomach virus/ anxiety issue happened. That was for 6 or so months as well, and all I remember was that almost every single day I had toast for breakfast, half a bologna sandwich for lunch, and grilled chicken for dinner. I’ve also tried Weight Watchers in the past (lost 20-some pounds, gained back more after). In college, my doctor put me on a medication that was meant to dull hunger. When I went off of it after a month or so, I had so many heart palpitations that I had to rush to the doctor’s for monitoring. I had heart palpitations after that for a year or so. I haven’t been “on a diet” in 3+ years, and I am at my heaviest but also my steadiest weight.
Do you think in your case your weight is partly or entirely genetic?
All of my siblings are heavy. My dad’s side of the family is almost all heavier people too. There are more things that go into weight than that, I’m sure, but I also know that I’ve been heavier than the norm since I was 1-2 years old. While I’m sure it’s possible to be smaller than I am now, I’m not sure it’s possible for me to maintain a “thin” body.
Do you consider yourself healthy? Have there been instances where people assumed you were unhealthy?
I’m going to say the same as Woman B in the original article: “I could stand to be healthier.” I am not a green juice drinker or kale eater, and I like cake and such. Healthy for me is going to be finding the balance. The most doctor-certified “unhealthy” aspect of me is my autoimmune disorder, which is not related to being fat. As for people’s assumptions, I’m sure they exist. I’ve only had one person make it very apparent to me though. I was working at a tutoring center and eating a sandwich from the deli when a fellow tutor asked, “aren’t you worried about getting diabetes?” I can’t remember how I reacted, but I now think it was such an odd thing to say. I can’t ever remember a time when I assumed that someone’s body would get a disease/disorder/condition.
Are your parents both supportive of you at the weight you’re at? Have they always been?
“Supportive” could mean so many things. My parents do not force me to diet and do not act as though I cannot do things because of my weight. I think I’ve shown them that I am able to be successful, happy, and a good person. I’ve also shown them that I have goals for myself and have my own relationship with my body. Do they every once in awhile make a comment that shows me otherwise? Yes. Comments about what I need to eat or how I need to move come in small snippets. A comment about what kinds of guys will find me attractive came out a week or two ago. These are not things I haven’t heard elsewhere. I’m very aware of cultural narratives that people then take up themselves. I will say my parents are very supportive of my blog and know that my body is my own and I make my choices.
How do you think retailers can improve clothes for plus-size people?
Biggest fix: more size availability. So many choices for those size 24 and under, so few for those above that.
Do you think plus-size women are judged differently than plus-sized men are? How?
I don’t think I am around enough plus-size men to understand what they go through. Of the few I know, they are often made invisible, which is damaging in itself.
Do you think there’s an assumption made/stereotype that exists about plus-size people? How would you respond to it?
Of course! Don’t take care of themselves, overeaters, “let themselves go”, lazy, unmotivated, no determination/self-control, dumb, and many more. As much as these assumptions exist and affect people, in my daily life it doesn’t come up much. I think as soon as I speak to people, many of these assumptions are shown to be what they are. I honestly know SO MANY fat people that live life differently that these assumptions just seem ridiculous.
Do you think there’s ever a right way or time to express concern about someone’s weight?
No. I have to agree with “Woman B” again: “If you’re thinking about confronting someone about their weight, is it really the weight that you have an issue with? Do they seem more tired or out of sorts? Talk to them about that. Do they seem really unhappy about themselves? Maybe compliment them about how cool they are. If you’re just concerned that someone doesn’t look as attractive to you anymore, the problem is you, not their weight.”
What are the worst things people have said to you about your body?
When I was younger it was things like “Brian said you’d be pretty if your butt wasn’t so big” and “who invited Shamu to the party?” When I was a teen, I remember one of my sisters asking why I wasn’t embarrassed to show my arms (because I have an obvious roll on each arm). As an adult, the worst has been at a party when a guy told me he was “drunk enough” to “even hook up” with me. On my blog I occasionally get a comment saying I’m gross or that I make them want to diet.
How did you respond?
When I was younger, I hid myself and tried to not be seen. The comment from my sister was spurred by her insecurities with her arms, but it definitely made me insecure about my arms. I actively tried not to wear sleeveless tops for years after that. When the drunk remark happened, I told him very publicly that his statement was horrible, and then I cried up in my room (sometimes you just need to cry when others inflict pain). The online comments on my blog get dumped in the trash and I go on my merry way. They are often posted anonymously anyway, so I don’t get to know/see who says it.
What have people said (or do you wish they’d say) that would compliment your body or appearance?
I most definitely get more compliments than negative responses. It often has to do with my outfits (I do blog about them after all). Often the most meaningful are comments or emails that are written by women my size or just plus size saying that they recognize beauty in my body/appearance and also recognize it in themselves. Men also say positive things, especially now that I’m older and willing to show full length pictures (in college, so many pictures were just of my face).
Do you find yourself hanging out with women who are closer to your size?
My local friends are all smaller than me and are thin. My sisters are bigger, but I am bigger than them. My friends online range tremendously, but I mostly talk with people who identify as “fat” or “plus size” on blogs and Twitter. I do actively seek out friends who are closer to my size, especially since so many of my interests are size related (plus size fashion, fat studies, fat activism).
How has your weight affected your sex life, if at all?
I don’t know. I think I’d have the same attitude/beliefs about my sexuality whether I was thinner or fatter.
When you’ve been single, has your weight affected your dating life?
I’m sure it narrows the people who will message me on online dating (which is pretty much where I meet people to date). That said, I’ve had more men interested in me this year than ever before, and I’m at my heaviest weight. I think the confidence and the photos I post are the most influential. I purposefully post full body pictures so they understand that I like my appearance. I do have additional concerns that others might not have: is the restaurant/activity that we are doing accessible and comfortable for me? I’m sure that impacts me going into unknown experiences.
Do you feel weird if the guy you’re with only dates larger women?
No, but I was recently confronted with these feelings and concerns. I realized that only dating or even preferring larger women makes me feel even more comfortable. I like that they are attracted to a larger body. However, a man that ONLY wants to talk about or see my body, that’s an issue. I don’t want to date a body. I want to date a person. I think ALL women of any size, shape, etc. will be approached by people who are only into their looks and not other aspects of themselves.
Do you feel weird if he’s only dated slimmer women before you?
I don’t know. I’ve never dated/talked to someone who only dated slim women before me.
I should say, though, that I actually don’t think I like dating much. Sometimes I feel like I force myself to because other people my age are dating and in relationships. I just have other things that take precedent in my life AND I am not attracted to very many people. This view is impacted by more things than just being fat, though.
I feel the need to disclaimer this post. I wrote it after 10 pm after a long work day. I hope it makes sense in the morning! Some things I noticed while answering, many of these questions have less to do with my body and more to do with my confidence and preferences. I will also note that having a positive relationship with my body has ONLY brought positives into my life. When I treat my body with respect and positivity, others follow suit. Also, the questions didn’t hit some of the topics I find important to my life, such as being fat at work. Being a fat woman means that I will sometimes see/hear people making side comments, and sometimes I know it’s associated with being fat and sometimes I assume it’s associated with being fat. For instance, on the first day of classes after walking in, I heard a student ask a fellow student if they’ve seen the movie Precious. I will assume that it’s because of my body. I’m not sure if other fat people would get hurt by hearing that, but it truly does not hurt me. I remember it, but I also know that 5 minutes after the comment I handed those students an introductory letter where a a third of the page is about me being fat (we study identity and writing). I don’t know if 4 years ago I would be empowered and confident enough to do that, but today I am.
What do you think of the Cosmo article? Want to see EVEN MORE perspectives of being a fat woman? Check out the following bloggers who have all answered the same questions:
Thank you, Claire, for organizing this!