I read Curvy Girl Guide’s haunting I am the Fat Friend article this morning. As I read, I could feel Meredith’s pain and almost hear the collective sound of fat girl tears dripping onto their keyboards and smart phones from across the country. “I could have written this,” I imagine them saying. I know I could have. I think we all wanted to reach out and give Meredith, and ourselves honestly, a hug, if we were comfortable letting someone hug our large, squishy bodies.
I could have written that a few years ago too, but that has changed. No, this isn’t a I lost the weight and you can do it too story. I’m bigger than ever. This is a story of how I broke out (or am working to break out) of the mindset than I am a second class citizen because I am fat. This is the story of how I decided that I will no longer wait for happiness to come when the scale reaches an arbitrary number. I will be happy now. I can heave meaningful and accepting friendships. I am not the fat friend. I am a fat friend. I am a friend who is fat. I am a friend. I am me, take me or leave me.
The story of how I got fat is decades long–starting with unhealthy diets in middle and high school. I’m sure many of your know how that goes so I won’t get too much into it. The first 10 years of my adult life was spent the following way: I go on a diet. –> I am successful and lose 30 lbs or so. I feel unstoppable. – -> Something happens to stop me (I break my arm, I subconsciously get scared, I go on vacation, I have to take final exams, etc). –> I eat like there is no tomorrow because I have been feeling so deprived and think every meal is my “last meal.” –> I gain all the weight back plus 15-30 lbs more. –> I have an “aha! moment” and start over.
Just over two years ago, I decided I had enough, and I needed to break this cycle. I was unhappy, socially anxious, and fed up. I quit my miserable job and decided to spend some time working on me. I went to see a psychologist weekly for almost a year. I worked from home and played with my 1-year-old daughter and put myself out into the world meeting other moms. I devoured book after book and blog after blog about topics like Health at Every Size (HAES), Intuitive Eating, Size Acceptance, and Loving Yourself. (There are so many wonderful and inspiring women out there who build me up with their words when I need it most). It took a full year from my first read of Health at Every Size before I was willing to accept its tenets of giving up dieting, eating food unconditionally with no judgment, and accepting myself as I am today.
It has not been easy. I have faltered. I have broken down crying at a Jenny Craig office and bought a week of cardboard-esque food, even though they ridiculously told me that I can’t eat a healthy meal full of real whole foods that I prepared for my family. I have fretted over airplane rides pitying the person who had to sit next to me. I have opted out of some cool opportunities to meet my favorite bloggers, scared of how I was to be perceived.
But, I have made amazing strides. I have smiled when I looked at a picture of myself–remembering what a happy time I was having when the photo was shot not agonizing about how I look. I have enjoyed food, all kinds of food, real food, with no remorse, judgment, or guilt. I have ordered dessert in front of other people. I have fought for my rights as a patient–standing up for myself to doctors and nurses (Nurses, please stop trying to take the blood pressure of fat people with normal sized BP cuffs! It’s just not accurate.).
In the past, I suffered from a major case of Social Anxiety Disorder. In my head, the world was against me. I felt judged and ashamed of who I was. When I did happen to make a friend, I never understood why they were friends with me. I felt like they were friends with me out of pity or like Meredith said in her article, to make themselves feel better about themselves. Shame is something I’m sure many fat people deal with continually and was a topic me and my psychologist addressed again and again. Many of us feel like second class citizens because that is the way society views and treats us. Because I felt like I was less of a person, I didn’t feel like I could truly be myself in my friendships. I felt like I had to be liked, regardless of whether or not I actually liked the person.
Here are some of the most important lessons I have learned over the last two years.
- I have nothing to be sorry for. Apologizing for who I am or for my size just shows that I feel that I don’t deserve happiness or what I want in life. I have just as much of a right to happiness as my thin friends. I have great value in this world. My clothing size or number on the scale does not in any way change that.
- My friends are not against me, and I should not demonize them in my head for things that I think they are thinking, not what they are actually thinking! One thing I try to do now is to assume that everyone is good with good intentions. Before, I assumed everyone was out to get me.
- I don’t have to like everyone, and everyone doesn’t have to like me. There are people out there who love me for who I am how I am today, and I don’t need to waste any energy pleasing those who don’t.
- I have to stop taking on the neurosis of my naysayers. If my mom makes a comment about her weight or what I eat, that’s her problem and her baggage, not mine. This was a huge lesson for me.
- The best advice I ever got, from the blog of the lovely Mara from Medicinal Marzipan, is to be sweet to myself. I will absolutely not participate in any conversations that involve sitting around dissecting our own physical faults. Also when I get anxious or when I beat myself up about something, I remind myself to treat myself with kindness, like a friend.
- I must not support fat shaming in any form. This is hard, because it is everywhere. For some reason, people think it is totally okay to make fat jokes. It’s hard to stand up to the people and call them out on stereotypes. I still need to improve on this, because the mindset that I must not ruffle feathers still sneaks in sometimes. Someone close to me has a magnet on her fridge that I find very offensive (“the fridge didn’t empty itself, lardass!”), but I am too chicken to say anything. It’s okay to stand up to people I care about and demand respect from them.
I can honestly say that I am happier than I have ever been in my life because I let go. Yes, I am still a size 24, but I feel so much lighter. I did not “give up” as so many people say about us HAES advocates. I let go of the pain, the guilt, the blame, and the self-loathing. When I was able to let go, I was then able to be a friend to myself and accept friends into my life.
Cindy Ingram is a married work-at-home mom in Dallas. She is an art educator and one of those people with an art history major who actually uses her degree. For much of her adult life, she was highly ambitious and career-focused. As a mom of two daughters, she has embraced the simple life. Her top priority now is figuring out how to make the best refrigerator pickles, and that is a great ambition to have. Pickles are really good. Cindy blogs at Little Bit of Scrapes and Yoshi and Zuzu.