[trigger warning: pretty raw descriptions of body shame/internalized fatphobia]
Every day I think things like, “I’m fat, it’s gross, I need to lose weight, I hate being so fat.” It’s scary to write this, and also a deep relief. Hiding this shame, these thoughts only makes them stronger and more insidious.
I experience some confusion about my body, my size, my level or degree of fatness–for a long time I have been receiving mixed messages about my weight. As a kid, I remember both my grandmother telling me that I needed to eat more, to put some meat on my bones and a doctor–who was much bigger than I was–telling me that I needed to lose some weight.
A few years ago, when I was significantly smaller than I am now, I had multiple friends tell me that they thought of me as thin. And I also had a boy who I was hooking up with tell me, after I took my shirt off for the first time, “I don’t need people to go to the gym all the time–I like it when boys do more interesting things with their time–and I need people to be in shape enough to have some stamina.”
(I don’t know how to speak about this exactly, my words are uncertain in this new territory, so forgive me if this jumps around a little.)
Looking back at myself in high school, I think, oh, gosh, I was actually pretty thin then, why did I feel so fat, so ashamed of my body? Part of it, of course, is one impact of my father’s sexual abuse–my body as a site of disaster, a dumping ground for toxic waste, wrong and disgusting and always responding in the wrong ways. Another part is the intense and vicious body standards within the gay male community, the veneration of certain–young, tall, thin, masculine–bodies and the denigration of any that deviate from these standards.
I have taken in these standards, too, of course, swallowed them down like all the sugary cereals I ate as a kid. In high school, I thought I needed to lose weight, to be thinner so I could be attractive to other queer boys. I wanted to become anorexic–and I tried but always failed. I would not eat for hours and hours but I would always get hungry in the end and eat something. I never lasted an entire day without eating. At the time I thought I was failing at developing an eating disorder but now I can see that my thoughts and actions were probably on the spectrum of disordered eating.
Less medically, what I’m saying is that these thoughts–that I need to lose weight in order to be attractive, that my body as it is is disgusting or wrong–are a form of self-hatred.
And there is another layer to this story, one that seems riskier in some ways to tell. I want to be clear here that I’m speaking only of my one body, my own truth, and not trying to speak about anyone else’s body.
Here’s a quick timeline: in the years, following my remembering of my father’s abuse, I gained a lot of weight. This also coincided with experiencing economic scarcity and precariousness and a huge amount of stress. (I am starting to understand more and more how I haven’t thought of myself as a “poor person” and how much this is tied in with typical American patterns around class consciousness, or really lack thereof, and how many economically marginalized people experience significant weight gain–there’s a whole ‘nother blog post there and maybe I will write it soon.) And I remember this moment when I was eating and eating–probably what could be classified as binge eating–and I felt out of control, in a frenzy of shame and self-hatred, a vicious spiral where I hated myself for being out of control, and I found myself thinking, “I want to be fat, I want to be the fattest person in the world.”
Reflecting on that, and on other patterns and dynamics, I came to understand–and I want to be clear here again that I am speaking only for myself, about myself–that my size was a kind of shield, a bulwark against the potential desires of men, which scared me so much, particularly when I was in the throes of trauma. I came to understand this, and I worked on transforming it, and it seemed like this worked. I lost a lot of weight, until I was the same size I had been in high school or even a bit smaller, and felt a lot more comfortable sharing erotic space with people and felt empowered and healed and transformed. It felt like I was letting go of shields on multiple levels.
And then I moved into an intentional community where I felt triggered most of the time for eight months and then at the climax and conclusion to that unsafe home had a re-traumatizing conflict and I fell back into that maelstrom of stress and upheaval and I gained a good chunk of the weight back.
This morning, I was thinking about some of this and checking in with myself and there was this small, scared part of me that didn’t want to lose weight because I didn’t want to get more erotic attention, because “I don’t want men to be attracted to me.”
There are multiple things that seem true about all of this to me, in this moment. First, as a shield, it’s not working–men are attracted to me and flirt with me and desire me. As a foundation, I want to affirm that bodies of all shapes and sizes are beautiful and sexy. So much of this pain and disapproval is actually about my scarred relationship with physicality, with this body that felt/feels like a place of imprisonment and torment–I want to reclaim my sacred birthright of pleasure, to fully embody my flesh, whatever size or form she takes, to feel the safety and strength of myself coating my skin. I know that it is toxic and self-defeating to focus on losing weight and I also want, in a journey focused on other things, to be open to that shift happening again, to shedding skin and lowering shields however that needs to happen. But my focus will be on gaining strength and stamina and flexibility, on befriending my muscles and bones and skin, on experiencing the deep flows of pleasure and pain that move through my body, wild and free and flawless as ocean waves, on letting my body be a temple of holy lust, a place of sweet and spicy joy, dancing, thrumming with power and sex and love.