I have been thinking about and wanting to write about my relationship with my body for a long time. The more I shared on Instagram in relation to body neutrality, fat phobia, Intuitive Eating, Health at Every Size etc, which really is not much, the more people shared with me their own stories and struggles and inspirations which led me to thinking that if I share mine, then something might click for even just one person that they don’t have to constantly be trying to shrink themselves or hate themselves.
I’m realising as I sit down to write this that it is a lot harder than I expected and I have a lot to say about it – but it’s emotionally very difficult. Difficulty is not a bad thing in many cases. I’d like to caveat this by acknowledging that I am a very privileged person in so many ways. This whole lock-down and restricted movement situation has taught me so many more ways I enjoy my privilege, but that’s for another day. This is about how, because of just one aspect of my appearance, the journey to gain some sort of neutrality and even love and respect for my body has been difficult but the challenge to learn to nurture and validate myself is something I needed so badly after over 20 years of actively hating my body and being told in millions of ways that I should hate it and I should hate myself as a person because of it. Because I am FAT. This piece is about my experience and not really a topic for debate or argument. I will talk about things I’ve had difficulty with and things I have found helpful and at the end I will recommend some Instagram accounts and books which I find and have found helpful.
So… here we go.
I have been fat since my pre-teen years, through my teens and my whole adult life. I’m genuinely fine with being fat though I haven’t always been. The word ‘fat’ has lost a lot of its negative associations for me and I’m at a more neutral place with it. According to diet culture, I shouldn’t be okay with my body as it is. I shouldn’t be fine with my body not being anything but whatever the current trend is in what’s deemed desirable according to the media and society aka thin but not too thin, curvy but not too curvy, fit but not too muscly, strong but not “masculine”, this list could go on and on. After years and years of wishing anything but my own body, trying different diets, and being told I have a “pretty face, but…”, I could not stand the whole diet-fail-despair-gain-despair thing for a second longer. It was making me miserable beyond words and the self-punishment and self-hatred was unbearable.
I happened upon the hashtag #bodypositivity on Instagram one day 3 years ago and it opened a world for me I had no idea I needed so fucking desperately! Seeing people with bodies like mine being happy in photos, eating delicious food, doing fun activities, shouting about how we are worthy of kindness and respect on the same level as any other person. They weren’t the before picture I was used to and thought I was, they were unapologetically taking up space and LIVING. I couldn’t believe this meant I could do things I wanted to do without having to change my body or constantly be in some miserable process trying to get to some impossible ideal and let go of the fear of what other people think. I could do what I want and get a sense of peace from – FOR ME!
Examples – starting a food blog, not critically assessing every photo taken of me, and even sharing pics of me with my body showing! Like this one below (shout-out to Lyndsay from @sewingwildseams who makes kick-ass, size inclusive, made-to-measure, comfy underwear – these are one of my recent purchases from her)
Before I go further, the hashtag #bodypositivity has been hijacked somewhat and now has lots of diet culture shit attached – try these instead: #fatneutrality # haes #bodyneutrality
LIFE – CHANGING!
This led me on to discover more and more about this world of self-acceptance, body positivity, self-care, fat neutrality, Intuitive Eating and Health at Every Size. I read the books, listened to the podcasts, consumed the social media, and the most important step – I deleted, muted and unfollowed everything diet culture, before and after, fat phobic thing I could from my social media consumption. It was difficult, definitely not an easy breezy process. It’s everywhere. But it got easier.
Diet culture is everywhere! It is so normalised and yet so toxic and harmful – it steals your time, money, happiness, energy and overall well-being. It is an incredibly lucrative industry. It thrives on people’s deepest insecurities and desire to fit in. It tells you that thin at any cost is best. Thin = healthy and fat = unhealthy, thin = worthiness and fat = worthless, thin = good and fat = bad. Diet culture is insidious. 95% of diets fail. This is a fact. They’re designed to – how else do Weight Watchers, Slimming World, Uni-slim etc make their money? By not only getting people to restrict their intake and enjoyment of food but by having them become so obsessed with it in relation to numbers on a scale, then feel like failures if they have a “bad” week or day or whatever and prey on the insecurity and shame of it. Take the current CoVid19 pandemic – people are STILL focusing on waist sizes and comparing when there is some much more to worry about and process. Not to mention (but I will anyway) the boring as hell “jokes” about gaining weight in this whole thing – please, stop sharing that utter shit, not only is it not remotely funny but it’s hurtful beyond words – stop telling me how much you don’t want a body like mine and that it’s a punchline! Shockingly, studies have revealed that many would rather contract the virus than gain a stone in weight. Fuck. That. Noise. I’m going to stop here with this effect of diet culture because it’s endless what can be said about it.
It’s an ongoing process but in particular the concepts of Intuitive Eating and Health at Every Size has helped me to find peace around food and body image for myself and respect my body for all it is. There are no restrictions. When I removed restrictions, I found that the limited or off-limit foods lost their appeal. This took some time and was not easy. But food is all just food. Sure, some has more nutritional value than others but they are all okay. I now eat to nourish, enjoy, socialise and feel good in my body. I am not obsessed about food anymore. I’m passionate about it and I enjoy almost all foods. It’s not about neglecting my health or anything of the sort – I’m looking after my health more than I ever have and that means my mental and physical health because I feel more connected with my body and listen to its cues. I trust my body and myself. It’s about acceptance and forgetting about numbers on a scale or a clothing label. There is zero focus on trying to be something but just being. Discovering disordered eating behaviours and thoughts and working on healing them. Moving how I like to move, walking, stretching, doing yoga for the enjoyment and strength and challenge and not punishing myself for eating something or trying to apologise for it or explain it. Taking the morality out of food choices. Eating mindfully – really tasting and enjoying textures, temperature, etc. Learning about hunger and satiety and fullness. Finding comfort in food and movement and stillness. I could go on and on forever. Changing my language around food and bodies – removing the morality from it with words like “good”, “healthy”, “bad”, “unhealthy”. Noticing my own judgement and biases around food. It’s not easy at all, it takes time and there are still struggles here and there but I have never FELT better.
The judgement thing was huge for me. I realised I judged food choices ALL THE TIME. My own and others’. This might be a strange example, but I found that I would not dare to eat something that isn’t considered in general a breakfast food for breakfast before 12pm. I still do this, it’s not a bad thing or a good thing it’s just a thing. I think now as I write this it might be related to the 10 years of factory shift-work when meal patterns were all over the place and I despised eating dinner when I would wake up in the afternoon/evening times but ate it anyway because it was dinner time… Hmm.. I’ll think more on that one! But, I notice in letting go of some of my own self-judgement, I have let go of others’ too. Who cares if so-and-so has put on or lost weight? Whatever the circumstances it is NOBODY’S business.
There is so much more I want to talk about in relation to this. Health for one which is a huge part of this whole topic. I am not neglecting my health by choosing to accept my fat body. I am looking after my health and overall well-being more than I every have and I am eternally thankful to be supported whole-heartedly by my own GP in this – this is rare and impossible for a lot of fat folks unfortunately. My partner Eoin is truly supportive in this too and has never had one thing to say about my size or weight in our 16 years together which is only right. Though I haven’t spoke to them in depth about this, I’m very lucky to have an extremely supportive family, which a lot of people do not have. I’m in a very privileged place in a lot of ways to navigate all this.
My point in all this is that the perception of body size dictates a lot about how the world treats you and in turn how you treat yourself. But you can choose to treat your body with the respect and nurturing it deserves, still support your health and gain confidence by not attempting to shrink yourself or live to some ridiculous, non-existent, one-size-fits-all ideal. I chose it, and I’m learning more and more every single day. I cannot tell you the relief of letting go of the world’s expectations and just living for me.
I will most likely write more in the near future about body acceptance, fat neutrality and more about it in relation to my own life and hone-in on some specific topics. I finished my degree in Social Care Practice this week and I based my final year research proposal project on ‘how weight stigma by medical professionals impacts negatively upon the mental health of adults with plus size bodies’ which was absolutely eye opening and devastating looking at current research and the science behind it – which categorically backs up the notion that thin does not equate to healthy and fat does not equate to unhealthy. I would love to share that with you all another day however, this piece is already long that I had planned and if you’ve stuck it out til now, thank you so, so much!
Here are some wonderful tools I find great strength and support in:
(those last two, Nicola and Caoimhe, are friends of mine, amazing women with their own unique journeys but navigating it all similar to myself)
My own personal Instagram account is @iemmahuman where I share more personal things including more about what I’ve spoken about about.
- Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole & Elyse Resch
- Just Eat It by Laura Thomas PhD
- Body Respect by Linda Bacon PhD & Lucy Aphramor PhD
- Body Positive Power by Megan Jayne Crabbe
- The F*ck it Diet by Caroline Dooner
- Hunger by Roxanne Gay
- Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls by Jes Baker
Thank you so much for reading,