I have been fat all my life. And I lived as such, as a fat girl who lives in a fatphobic world. I used to hide my belly in loose clothing, sweat cold before PE at school, never eat in public. When you are fat, you eventually become the funny friend: if you cannot rely on your body to please people, you can be the clown others use to vent their bad moods and feel better about themselves. If you are a fat person, look at me in the eyes and tell me you have never said “forget about it, if you are fat then what am I?” when someone else complained about their weight. Right, you did. However, I am not here to teach you our society is fatphobic. I would hope that is crystal clear by now.
Over the last year, I have lost a lot of weight. And I found myself living in a more welcoming world. Suddenly, people did not look away when I walked by on the street. The cashiers did not look me up and down when buying skinny jeans or ask me if it was a gift. Personal trainers did not assume I needed advice on what exercises to do at the gym. Nice, isn’t it?
But not all that glitters is gold. Suddenly, men catcalled me more, explained basic things without me requesting it, and offered to help me put my bags in the plane’s luggage bin. While I was doing everything I could to be less fragile mentally and physically, in the eyes of the world, I was becoming weaker than I had ever appeared. I was becoming the ordinary young girl who needs a man’s protection and cannot fend for herself.
Thus, I realised to what extent fatphobia has changed our worldview: fat people are so distant from western beauty standards that not even patriarchal chauvinistic behaviours are directed toward them. Fat women are not fragile souls to support and protect; they are vile beings who have consciously ruined their appearance and should be treated as such. Not to mention health! Nobody, not a single soul, questioned if my weight loss was associated with a healthier diet. Even if this can be true in my case, the perception of thinness = health is as wrong as deeply rooted in our society.
I had the opportunity to discuss with people who fall into the ‘fat’ category, but have healthy eating habits and a balanced workout routine. They all agreed there is a big difference between being fat and having body dysmorphia in the what-is-considered-normal weight category – with no intention to invalidate other people’ experiences. When you are thin and you feel ugly, the world says you are pretty, but when you are fat and you feel ugly, the world says you deserve it. Alternatively, it may try to convince that you are attractive despite your weight. Then you lose that weight. No more “at least you have a beautiful face” or “you are not fat, you are beautiful”. You are no longer brave for wearing a bikini on a public beach, you are just a person in a bikini on a beach with their friends.
Easy, no? You can just change your whole physical appearance, and the world will eventually like you. We all are victims and culprits in this poisonous appearance game that starts with us associating fat with something to avoid. After all, who wanted to be Gus Gus when we watched Cinderella as children? Ursula? The Queen of Hearts? Aladdin’s Sultan? We grow up watching cartoons where the main characters are thin. Fat characters, when they exist, are relegated to secondary roles and usually associated with malice or ignorance. Hence, we learn those are the roles fat people can aspire to. Nothing more. The sad part is how true this is in the real world.
I have seen with my own eyes I have more choices and opportunities now than when I was fat, and yes, I am more confident, but is it fair? Is it fair to the Emma of the past to use her as a “before”, as if she was worth nothing before losing weight? It is freeing, but it is such bitter freedom.