Monday, September 13, 2010

FAT is not a four letter word.

FAT is not a four letter word.I applaud anyone's determination to manage their health and well-being, physical and emotional.  However, with everyone from parents to society, and now even schools becoming the fat police, this this makes me see red! Why? Because it does not help. Instead it (paradoxically, counter-productively, ironically, cruelly) creates an environment in which eating disorders and body dysmorphia thrive.

As someone who has spent all of her adult life on the other end of the scale (pardon the pun), I am a prime example of the damaging effects of harping on the fear of fat. When I was 13, I was 5'2 and I weighed 137 lbs. My petite mother panicked and dragged me to the doctor, beginning a life-long cycle of diets and weight gain, strict regimented eating or binging, and continual self-denigration. As a result, I have "yo-yo"ed between sizes 16-24 for my entire adolescent and adult life. It has taken me 32 years from that day to overcome the damage to my spirit and I am just starting to overcome the damage to my body.

We have to combat the zeitgeist of fat phobia - the last widely permissible (even lauded) bigotry. The very word, "fat", has become overloaded with anxiety and negative values. It has taken on hugely disproportional connotations of shame and mortification, and no longer functions as noun or adjective, but rather is used almost as a swear word. With the onslaught of media messages, from reality shows and "helpful" talk shows, the fashion industry to news reports of the latest "studies" on obesity, it is very easy to be caught up in the social frenzy and buy into the myths of fat vilification. Women in particular are bombarded with the message that if we are fat, then we are (or should be) physical, emotional and/or spiritual cripples, and fair game for all sorts of derogatory comments.

Enough!  I refuse to participate in or perpetuate that mythology. We owe it to ourselves and our sisters and daughters, and yes, also our brothers and sons, to combat the tyranny of our fat phobic society and how it targets and denigrates people based on size. You are beautiful at any size.

Let's be clear: We do not have a weight problem. We have a weight. They may have a problem with that. But let's stop letting them dump their problem on us.

As a child, I remember running around and playing with abandon. I took dance classes, and rode my bike, and walked, and ran, and... However, with the onset of tween-dom and adolescence, I succumbed to the pressures of schoolyard politics and lost my love of physical activity. In high school, gym class and school dances were at best boring and at worst humiliating. I became an artistic, nerdy, smart girl-woman who could not conceive of anything like physical "exercise" being fun (I recognize the words, but the sentence as a whole does not make sense).

In adulthood I rediscovered my joy of dancing and movement as well the pure unadulterated elation that comes from celebrating your strength, flexibility and endurance. I've walked 60-kms in two days (raising $13,500 to combat cancer) and had the blisters and lost toe-nails and sunburns and a cold from walking all day in the rain (because while healthy activity supports the immune system, extreme activity has been shown to suppress it) to prove it.  I've biked all around this fantastic hilly city of mine (just take a look at a topographical map of Toronto and you'll see what that entails). I've taken Yoga and Pilates classes, found myself able to contort my body into fantastic shapes and positions, though humorously hindered by bumping up against bits of myself in the process (like the time I had my legs thrown way back behind my head and found myself with a face-full of my own bountiful bosom, unable to breathe). And, after laughing at the strength-training instructor who wanted me to do push ups (Sure, honey. Tell you what. If you can bench press ME, we are on. Otherwise, can I push YOU up?), I discovered that real weight training was a true exercise in both torture and pleasure. Who knew it could be so satisfying to bench-press or leg press or, even, those dreaded PUSH-UPS!

All that physicality finally taught me to love my body as it is. Furthermore, I get hit on regularly these days - often even when I'm out walking with my husband. Real men who are not afraid to appreciate ladies with a little extra meat on our bones are out there and I am living proof that they can tell when we feel confident at whatever size!

Full disclosure: I currently wear about a size 24 (well, the labels say everything from 14-26, but I know my measurements but let's call it 24 if we have to give it  a number). In the last couple of years I've discovered something has shifted in my marriage. My husband, who used to be enthralled by the more usual womanly erogenous zones, is finding my voluptuous belly irresistible! His hands will inevitable stray to and linger on my belly.

This paralleled my own (gradual and hard-won) acceptance of that part of my body. Our unjustly maligned and oft-reviled yet generous and forgiving bellies can be honoured as a source of sensual pleasure, as well as serving so well in all the ways mentioned by Sarah Henderson in her wonderful poem: My Belly.  I just LOVE this. It's posted here:

You know, it's a funny thing I realized on the way to size acceptance. No matter what size we are and whether it's our ribs or our rolls that are more evident, even swathed in a burka, our bodies make their unique and wonderful shapes known. It's not like we really can hide the truth of our body, so why not embrace it instead?

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