I talk a lot about positive body image, both here and to basically anyone who will let me blather on in person about it. I am a firm believer in loving yourself exactly how you look right now. I’m against dieting 99% of the time, and I’m against the public pushing of weight loss so you look “healthier” (by which we mean you’ve lost 50 pounds and can fit into your pants from 20 years ago!) 100% of the time. I think health and how you define it for yourself is your business and no one else’s. You can’t define someone’s health for them, and you can’t tell a person how to value their health either. Bearing in mind that what’s good for one person could be a deadly peanut allergy to another, and what’s good for boosting one person’s energy level naturally could be catastrophic to a diabetic.
And all these things are private. They’re no one’s business whatsoever, especially not the public’s. No one has the right to look at you and from their cursory glance determine you need to change your body. No one has the right to shame you thinner under the guise that thin = healthy, let alone assume it’s their place to do so at all.
So what happens when someone tells me, as a fat-positive anti-body policing activist, that they want to diet to lose weight?
It can be difficult to straddle that line, for me at least. What a person does with his or her own body is ultimately their choice, but for me it really comes down to determining why it is they want to lose weight in the first place. “Thinspiration” has so thoroughly saturated our culture that it’s easy to think that our lives will be fantastic if we just lost weight. If we were thin we’d be happy, surely. I mean, the TV tells us so and everything!
You see? Thin = happy! Everyone says they’re getting smaller, losing pants sizes! It must be good! With shows like The Biggest Loser, commercials for Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, Nutrasystem, the list goes on– it’s really, really easy for someone to think that if they just lose weight, they’ll be happy. You rarely see fat and happy people, after all. Most of the fat people we see on television are miserable or just too stupid to realize how miserable they are.
That’s why this message hits home particularly hard when those few role models we have convert seemingly to the “dark side.” The best and most prevalent example from the American side of the industry is, of course, Jennifer Hudson. Gorgeous plus-sized singer turned Weight Watchers poster child who constantly harps on how thin, pretty, and healthy she is now– a rub of course at all of those who aren’t. For a lot of us she was one of the limited examples we have of how you can be gorgeous, successful and happy and also plus sized. Look at her! Jennifer Hudson! Amazing voice, fantastic style, drop-dead beautiful. She was a size 22 and positively successful, even in our body-obsessed culture.
An even bigger rub, though, has to be Dawn French. She may not be as famous over here, but she’s pretty big in the UK and well-known in the fat community as a vocal ally and activist. She was proud of her size, ready to tell anyone who challenged her that her body was beautiful the way it was and needed no changing.
If I had been around when Rubens was painting, I would have been revered as a fabulous model. Kate Moss? Well, she would have been the paintbrush.
And then earlier this year, she appeared out of the blue having dropped quite a bit of weight. For a long time she was completely closed-lipped on how it is she went about the weight loss; as someone who was so vocal about being fat positive it honestly didn’t even occur to me at first that it was anything but natural. A lot of things can trigger weight loss — grief, for example — and she’d just gone through several losses. Though I really hadn’t put that much thought into it, I just let it be. Until this little gem was released:
Let me break that down for those of you that may not hit square in the gut like it did for me. Here we have a woman who has spent her entire life as a role model for those of us that don’t think you have to be thin to be beautiful. Who told us fat little girls that yes, you are fabulous just how you are. This same woman has turned around and said “Just eat healthy and get off your ass! Take care of yourself and you too can drop 50+ lbs! Just stop eating chips and chocolate and eat salads instead, the pounds will melt off like magic!” In essence, that everyone’s natural shape is thin. That the reason you’re fat is because of poor habits that need correcting.
As a fat person, it’s really hard to watch someone you relate to wash their hands of the reason you related to you in the first place. For them to say the parts of them you identified with were bad. That the parts of them you identified with need to be changed for you to actually be happy.
But this is where my logic turns against me. The same arguments I use to express how upset I am at these turn-arounds, the same angry rants I wield against people who rub their “thinspiration” all over my face can just as easily be used to tell me I have no right to tell these women what to do with their bodies. That they belong to them and only them and it’s not my place to tell them they shouldn’t be losing weight. That I have no idea what their bodies’ natural shapes are, I have no idea what their health is, and I have no idea what led them to make the decision to lose weight. And that’s all completely true.
On the part of celebrities, I’m willing to step out on a limb and say that once you become famous, to a degree you’re putting yourself out there to be judged. You have chosen to step into the limelight, to take a position that you’re aware means you will be picked apart and constantly judged. Your words are weighed even more heavily; news media loves to harp on people contradicting themselves in deliciously juicy ways. So if you’re a proud fat woman who turns around and loses a bunch of weight– no, I don’t feel I’m in the wrong for crying foul. You promised me a kick-ass fat woman I could look up to and all I got was this crappy salad with dressing on the side. It’s absolutely their right to change their tune but it’s every bit as much my right to feel both slighted and pissed off when they do.
But overall with the average person on the street I don’t know the answer. I’ve sat here staring at this post, and I’m willing to admit that I may just be reverse body policing. I may not be any better than any of the people I slam in my articles. But for my perspective, I will say this: you are at your most beautiful when you aren’t trying to fit your body into a mold it’s not meant to fill. Fat and gorgeous are not antonyms. It’s absolutely your call what you do to your body; it’s yours, you’re the only one who’s going to have to deal with what you do or don’t choose to put it through. But when asked I will always discourage dieting because frankly, I don’t believe it works. I will always encourage someone to learn to love themselves exactly how they are before they even consider weight loss. If you hate the way you look, weight loss more than likely isn’t going to cure that for you. You’ll just lose the weight and find something else on yourself to hate.
Will I stop preaching the evils of dieting? No. But I’m not going to slap the salads out of the hands of random passers-by either. I’m all about choice and I’m not about to judge someone for making one that I think is wrong when my existence is essentially considered one big wrong choice according to the majority of the global population. You’re the only one who lives in your body, the only one who knows what it needs. Body image — your body image — is something you have to wrestle with and identify on your own. Just don’t be afraid to love it exactly how it is right now, even if it is fat. Us fat chicks are pretty awesome after all.