Love, Advice

How do I love my body, when society shames me for my weight?

STRONG TRIGGER WARNING FOR TALK OF WEIGHT LOSS, FATPHOBIA, AND BODY IMAGE.

Hi Samaa,

I’m in the exhausting process of losing weight (again). While I think my motivations are FOR myself: to move easier, to find better-fitting clothes, to be healthier, I’m having a hard time finding the balance between wanting to lose weight while still retaining body positivity.

How do you love your overweight body while still trying not to literally run away from it?

[bctt tweet=”How do you love your overweight body while still trying not to literally run away from it?”]

Sincerely,

Overweight, Over Hate

______________

Dear Overweight, Over Hate,

Thank you for this question. First and foremost, congratulations on taking steps to feel better about yourself! The important thing to remember is that your happiness and self worth should not be contingent on your size, how much you weigh, or how much fat you have.

I have had to reflect a lot on this topic over the years, especially since aligning myself within the body positive and fat acceptance movements. I did a lot of research on this issue, and there were many conflicting results about how to reconcile body positivity while wanting to lose weight. I tried to crowdsource opinions from my Facebook friends as well, but found that there was as much disagreement within that subgroup as there was on the Internet at large.

Let’s first break this issue down into a few subtopics: fatphobia, health, and self love.

[bctt tweet=”Let’s first break this issue down into a few subtopics: fatphobia, health, and self love.”]

A lot of fat acceptance bloggers say that weight loss is fatphobic by nature and therefore can’t be a part of the fat acceptance or body positive movements. Others say that being body positive is about loving your body – no matter what size – and deconstructing the idea of good vs bad bodies, therefore losing weight is fine as long as you pursue it within the framework of loving yourself. But I guess the question remains, how do you do that in a society that is so fatphobic and privileges thin bodies?

Fatphobia is an incredibly pervasive issue that lingers whenever people talk about body politics. This is an incredibly thorough scholarly article that discusses both the physical and psychological consequences of fatphobia on individuals and in society. Fatphobia is also inherently ableist and classist. Framing fatphobia as a health issue is also damagingentirely false, and sensationalist. (What does it mean to be “overweight”? Over what weight? Who gets to decide? What metrics are we using?)

This is a beautiful zine that can help you feel better about your body and deconstruct negative associations that come with being ‘fat’ or of size in our current society. Please check it out! Page 8 has a great set of ideas for how to feel positive at every size.

Fatphobia, and classifying obesity as a disease and an epidemic, is not only sensationalist but creates a culture of fear. I think using fear as a motivator for anything is unhelpful and unhealthy. I am glad that is not your motivation at all.

I also think that when we talk about “health” we must think of it holistically. My friend who is into bodybuilding explained this really well: feeling good and creating healthy habits is the goal, aesthetic changes are the byproduct. Unfortunately, in our casual discourse, we often conflate the three. I caution myself, and others, from putting too much stock in the aesthetic byproducts (i.e. looking attractive) because I think that is superficial, and can be fleeting, for many reasons. This study even talks about how fat acceptance creates the optimal environment to make healthy changes and lose weight.

Basically, our bodies are not public property. If we believe in autonomy then we must also believe that we cannot place value judgments on our own or other people’s size and health. People should not be shamed for being fat, nor losing or gaining fat/size/weight.

Part of the reason why a lot of rhetoric surrounding “losing weight” contradicts with body positivity, and my personal politics, is that the conversation often dissociates our bodies from ourselves. Our bodies are part of our identities. When we say or think hurtful things about our body, or specific body parts (for me it has always been my stomach), we are behaving as though those parts are not *us*. I think it’s really important not to do that in order to maintain a positive body image, which is very hard to do – no matter your size – for women in this day and age.

I also think it’s harmful to draw unnecessary connections between being a certain size and being confident or happy. You can be confident and happy at any size. You can do so many things, no matter how big or small you are, because your body is powerful and awesome. Because you are powerful and awesome.

As women we are told to shrink ourselves, to not take up space, to be small. I’ve committed myself to being “thick (in the way that Melissa Harris Perry so perfectly describes) and to take up space and be powerful. For example, sometimes when I think about losing weight, I think of losing a part of myself and my size, which is perhaps not the right way to think about it, because my fat is not what makes me powerful. Instead, I’ve chosen to reframe things in terms of what I have *added* to myself: energy, muscle, strength, and longevity. In that sense, I think my health and fitness goals are absolutely in line with my politics.

Here are my five suggestions:

  1. Let’s make a pact that we do not stigmatize our – or other people’s – bodies based on their size or appearance
  2. Let’s learn to associate happiness with healthiness – and by healthiness I mean well-rounded, holistic, healthiness: psychological, emotional, spiritual, and physical. One focus area is not enough. Spend as much time on your physical health as you do on your emotional health.
  3. I think if we reframe the discussion into one of self love and self care, then anything we do for ourselves, with love and compassion, is good for us: including exercising and eating nutritious food. However, everything in moderation.
  4. Commit to investing in and bettering yourself – in many ways. I think this eight-step list is very helpful, as is this great article that talks about balance.
  5. Add to yourself and do things that make you happy. For example, I love boxing. I love how it makes me feel – strong, agile, powerful – and it’s great that it’s good for my body too. I also feel like I am learning a new skill, so I am *adding* to myself, rather than taking something (weight/fat) away or trying to shrink my size.

I hope that helps!

Lots of love,

Samaa

Do you have any questions for Samaa? 

Send all of your questions about body positivity, confidence, and fashion to asksamaa@comingoffaith.com.