Tell Me I’m Fat is podcast I listened to recently on This American Life. I’ve felt these women’s emotions deeply. This post is a reaction to listening to this post.
This episode was brave and unrelenting. If you can make the time, listen to the whole thing because chances are, you’ll relate to many parts of this podcast too. Most of this post is the real and raw transcripts of women and their weight related experiences. I have added all of my words in italics in this post for easier separation.
Podcast here. I’ve included a lot of the transcript of the episode in this post. They said it way better than I ever could because it was their first-hand experience on being fat in a skinny-obsessed culture.
Act One. The Day the Scales Fell from Her Eyes.
My boss, Dan, was on something of an obesity epidemic kick. He wasn’t alone. The rest of the nation had declared a war on obesity. They’d whipped up a host of reasons why it was right and good to hate fat people– our repulsive, unsexy bodies, of course, the classic, but also our drain on the health care system, our hogging of plane armrests, our impact on the children, our pathetic inability and/or monstrous refusal to swap austerity for gluttony, oh, and our health, because they care.
Dan was on that train, and I don’t blame him. It was a very popular and, I imagine, gratifying ticket at the time. And even more so than today, it was considered very roguish to tell it like it is about fat people. Dan’s main sticking point seemed to be fat people like me who insisted we weren’t imminently dying.
He fiercely and persistently defended his, quote, “refusal to take the self-esteem-boosting/public-health-shredding position that you can be obese and healthy. More than anything, this passage from his 2005 book, The Commitment, sums up the overall tone of his stance at the time on fatties. Here’s the quote.
“Two days later, in a water park in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, I came to a couple of realizations. First, anyone who denies the existence of the obesity epidemic in the United States hasn’t been to a water park in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
The owners of water parks in the US must be saving a fortune on water and chlorine bills. Floating in the deep end of the wave pool with DJ, Terry observed that there was an awful lot of water being displaced. If the South Dakotans floating around us all got out of the pool at the same time, the water level would most likely have dropped 6 feet.”
That’s what Dan wrote. In other words, we’re horrible to look at. We’re in the way. We’re a joke.
I could probably have dealt with that. But I started to get comments here and there from readers asking how it felt to know that my boss hated me because of my body. I knew Dan didn’t hate me. But why didn’t he see that when he wrote about fat people he was writing about me, Lindy West, his colleague and friend? And why should I, as an employee, have to swallow that kind of treatment at my job, in the same newspaper I was sweating blood into for 36K a year? Did I want to be the kind of person who didn’t fight?”
On February 11, 2011, I wrote a scorched-earth essay and posted it publicly at the tail end of a sunny Friday afternoon. The post was called, “Hello, I Am Fat.” It included a full body photo of me taken that day by Kelly O, our staff photographer, with the caption, “28 years old, female, 5 foot 9, 263 pounds.”
It read as follows. “This is my body, over there. See it? I have lived in this body my whole life. I have wanted to change this body my whole life.
I get that you think you’re actually helping people by contributing to the alp of shame that crushes every fat person every day of their lives. But you’re not helping. Shame doesn’t work. Diets don’t work.
Fat people already are ashamed. It’s taken care of. No further manpower needed on the shame front. Thanks.”
“I reject this entire framework. I’m not concerned with whether or not fat people can change their bodies through self-discipline and choices. Pretty much all of them have tried already. A couple of them have succeeded. Whatever.
My question is, what if they try and try and try and still fail? What if they’re still fat? What if they’re fat forever? What do you do with them then?
Do you really want millions of teenage girls to feel like they’re trapped in bodies that are ruining their lives? And on top of that, it’s because of their own moral failure? And on top of that, they’re ruining America with the terribly expensive diabetes that they don’t even have yet? You know what’s shameful? A complete lack of empathy.”
I just love her. I bought Lindy West’s book, Shrill, after listening to this podcast. She challenged me to love me, no matter what. I think the real core point of her writing is to be content with who you are now, instead of chasing that ideal perfect body in your head.
Act 2. It’s a Small World After All.
Of course, I’d lost the weight to fix two specific problems. I wanted to get a job and find love. Old Elna looked for a job for a year and a half. New Elna was offered work a month after she hit her goal weight, an entry-level position on an actual TV show.
I was hired to be a page at the Letterman show. My job was to walk down the line of people waiting to go into the theater and divide them into three groups– dots, generals, and CBS twos. The dots were the beautiful people. They got seated in the first three rows. Usually those were the only rows you saw on television.
Generals were average people. They sat in the order they arrived. CBS two was for fat people, elderly people with a visible illness, people who looked like they might be disruptive, and goths. I’d scribble CBS two on their ticket. And that was code for, seat them in the back three rows at the balcony– the nosebleed seats. I’d seen Letterman a few years earlier. I was near the front of the line and somehow ended up in the nosebleeds. I remember being confused by it. The day I was trained, I put it together.
Here’s what losing 110 pounds really looks like according to Elna Baker. New Elna shared her perspective of life being 110 pounds heavier and what it’s like as the New Elna. Anyone who has gone through extensive weight loss has to grapple with the feelings of being treated differently on many levels because you weigh less. It’s a weird paradigm shift and one I don’t think I’ll get used to because it pisses me off. I don’t like being treated differently because I wear a different size. (Get me? Do you get me? The struggle is real.)
Act 3. How Are You Doing with Sizes?
Exactly. I don’t want to pretend that I’m OK with it, and it’s not judging anyone else. It’s just that I know the realities of living in my body. I know how irritating and how exhausting it is to, for example, climb a set of stairs. And so I don’t need to be thin, but I want to be in better shape. I want to have more stamina. And I honestly, because I’m vain, want to wear cuter clothes.
Roxane Gay’s observations about being Lane Bryant-sized versus above Lane Bryant sized was very interesting and raw. I’ve always been Lane Bryant-sized and have resented the fact that the Lane Bryant choices were still not cute enough. However, if you can’t fit in Lane Bryant sizes then the ‘cute clothes’ options are even more narrow. Way more narrow. Excuse the poor use of adjective.
I agree completely with Roxane Gay. One of the reasons I chose to have weight loss surgery was how my weight inhibited many of my daily experiences and the toll it was taking on my body—back, knees, feet especially. Climbing stairs and walking in general is much easier now. And like her, I want to wear cuter clothes, because I’m vain too.
Act 4. Cross Training
And I was just pretty devastated for the first couple of months that, you know, that that was the only thing that seemed to be important, right? What I look like and not what kind of person I was. And it was kind of a disclaimer of everything that a Christian university was supposed to be about, right?
I was like, really, God? Is this how you’re judging people? I don’t know how they reconcile that, you know? The thing is supposed to be, God looks inside and sees your heart, right? That’s the premise. And that’s how it’s supposed to be.
Here’s the context of the quote above. Students at a particular university were admitted and kept in school based on their BMI. If you want to know which school this was, you’ll have to listen to the podcast. (Oh brother, college acceptance based on weight? Gimme a break—only in a southern state in the 70’s. Makes me want to throw up in my mouth that this happened to people. God + proper weight= ? Good Christian. Ew. This makes me ill.)
So let me end here:
I’ve felt many of the things these women have talked about in this podcast. I’ve debated the idea of losing weight and if I’m doing it for the right reasons. Fortunately, I didn’t have to deal with the life events of finding a job and love whilst at my fattest weight, otherwise, I might have succumbed to what Elna did (and the subsequent horrible surgeries) out of perceived necessity to have the American Skinny Dream. Living as a fat person is hard. It is a constant reminder of how you’re not measuring up to a societal expectation. Skinny=good. Fat=bad.
I think we need to rethink the fat messages we send subtly and overtly. I don’t want my own children to feel like they’re not measuring up by measuring down. If I’m honest though, I hope they never have to struggle with being fat like I have. They can struggle with other things, but in my humble option, being fat may be the one of the worst and often still socially acceptable stigmatizations. It totally sucks.
Until next Friday…Love you loves.
Gastric Bypass Update:
I’ve lost 60 pounds. The reality, I’m STILL considered obese. I think I look pretty darn good, but I’m STILL obese. According to the standard ‘BMI gods’, I’m supposed to be 40 pounds less than I am now.
I have to admit, I’m kinda fighting the norms a little. I don’t really care about the BMI gods and their expectations. I’m a rebel like that.
Let the hair loss begin! It’s begun and has accelerated over the past 6 weeks. I lose a consistent amount of hair every day. It’s actually a side effect of weight loss surgery. The good news is, that this hair loss should be temporary and I’ll return to my normal rate of hair loss soon. I’m shedding like a cat though, and that’s really annoying. For the record, being butt hot and shedding isn’t really that fun. Fortunately, I have so much hair on my head, most people can’t tell I’ve lost any.