Let’s not start at the beginning.
Let’s do this like one of those movies with 4 or 5 intersecting stories that are spliced together through clever film editing. You know, like Pulp Fiction or Shortcuts (is my age showing yet? Damn, that didn’t take long). We will have plenty of time to wander through my childhood and dissect the genesis of my body shame. Instead, let’s kick off this blog talking about the breakthrough that was decades in the making – the moment that set me on the path of body freedom and becoming a fat activist.
Back in November of last year (2018), I was going through a rather brutal bout of depression. I have always struggled a bit when the days get shorter in the Fall and Winter due to Seasonal Affective Disorder, but this was the first time it was bad enough that my therapist recommended I consider medication. I was SO scared to start taking Zoloft. I had heard from others that it was practically guaranteed that I would gain weight. Grreeeeaaaaat. My already chubby frame was about to get bigger. I then had a thought run through my head that scared the living shit out of me. What would happen if I didn’t take the pills?
Whoa. Houston, we have a problem. What the actual eff?
I had fatphobia. I feared being fat. (No idea what fatphobia is? Check out this post by Gillian Brown)
Now, you may be thinking… Jeannie, how can you be fatphobic when you yourself are fat? Easy – people who go through the majority of their lives as a fat person grow up believing that they are less of a person, that they are sick, and don’t deserve to live their lives with all the priveledges that thin people enjoy – thus they hate themselves. And that hate runs deeeeeeep, so deep, that I actually contemplated NOT taking the meds that essentially saved my life because they were going to make me fatter than I already was.
Are you hearing this?
I was going to choose depression over weight gain. Mental illness over fatness. That was the moment I knew I needed the meds. That was the moment I realized that I had allowed my body size to dictate my happiness.
Here’s the truth – this scenario is nothing new, in fact, 81% of 10-year-old girls are more afraid of getting fat than they are of getting cancer, losing their parents, or nuclear war. Let that sink in. I learned this by watching Jes Baker’s TED Talk, which is a great place to start if you are new to understanding fatphobia. I was one of those 10-year-old girls, and that feeling of fear never left me until the moment I took my first anti-depressant.
So, what did I do with all of that? Nothing, initially. I started to dabble in intuitive eating, I read part of a book recommended by a friend, but I was still deep in my shame and phobia. It wasn’t until I watched a tv show airing on Hulu called “Shrill” that the switch was flipped. If you have not heard about this amazing tv show, please – for the love of all that is good, watch it. Shrill is a story about a woman named Annie (played by the brilliant Aidy Bryant. Check out her NPR interview, here) that essentially goes through the same awakening as I was about to do – getting sick of the constant judgment, and self-loathing that had taken up the majority of my life. That was it. I was tired of wasting my one, precious life on this endless and painful quest for thinness. Moreover, I was furious at how I and so, so, many others have been treated, discriminated against, and taught that we were worth less than the thinner person next to us. Thus began a ravenous thirst for knowledge on the subject. I began to devour medical journals, scientific research, articles, books, blogs, and the more I dug, the more I realized just how complicated and deep this went – and how much more I needed to learn.
So, here I am. A newly formed fat activist that has a lot to say. I have lots of ideas swirling around my brain and some plans for advocacy efforts, interviews, healing spaces, and whatever else I can contribute to the effort.
Beginnings are scary, but also exhilarating. Let’s dive in.