Although a relatively confident girl, I spent most of my adolescence terrified of fat. Getting fat, feeling fat, being fat, it was the benchmark by which I determined my self-worth. Fat was ugly, shameful, uncomfortable, taboo and as a teen girl growing up in London, quite frankly, I was not supposed to be fat. I was supposed to be petite and soft, svelte and pretty, and these aren’t associated with fatness. It was only when my therapist gave me Susie Orbach’s Fat is a Feminist Issue that I really began to explore how charged the word is. The rhetoric used around fat perpetuates a destructive diet culture, encouraging eating disorders, body image issues and self-loathing, most significantly among young women. I’ve realised fat actually has very little to do with size. I believe on a micro level fat is a felt state of being, attached to the experiencing of negative emotions. On a macro level fat is criminal, society has not only made us afraid of the substance but damns those who carry too much of it or in the wrong places.
The reality was that I was never actually fat, never overweight, never obese. I had a little pre-pubescent puppy fat but my size was never medically threatening to my life. Nevertheless an obsessive fear of fat led me to spend the time until my early twenties constantly dieting, determined to stay in control of my body size and composition. I withdrew socially, and was addicted to anxiety-inducing thoughts about what I’d eaten and how it would effect my body. Beginning therapy made me question the why in these seemingly irrational behaviours. Why become so self-destructive? Why fight against my body? Why push myself so hard? Why become obsessive and addicted? Why so afraid of fat? I began therapy when I started my degree in social anthropology. Three years later I had some answers, drawing my conclusions from psychoanalysis, political theory and economics.
It was simply a matter of control, I was told. My life experiences felt uncertain and messy, I was out of control, desperate to create some order. As normal, my therapist and I began with my childhood. We worked through family life, exploring my relationship to food, my body and my parents. At university, I was learning about capitalism, the performativity of the body, the distinction between sex and gender. As I deconstructed both personal and cultural relationships to fat I realised it was an expression of self which we experience like currency. The loss and gain of body weight determining self-worth, the purity of diet - detox and clean eating - deciding our social status. Fat is political, sometimes so powerful it can govern over us. While I’ve worked hard to overcome my eating and body image issues, now feeling comfortable in my skin, I believe my fear of fat will remain for as long as society is afraid of it.
I don’t know a single girl who doesn’t worry about her body shape, hasn’t at some point in her life felt the need to diet or used the term “fat” as a negative. It makes sense because in a culture allergic to unhealthiness and largeness, no one wants to be the fat girl. It troubles me that those of us who struggle, struggle in private. As with most mental illness, shame plays a fundamental role in establishing the negative self-image and destructive behaviours rife in eating disorders. Attempting to deconstruct the myths around our relationship to fat, bodies and dieting, I am beginning an online platform aiming to be provide a safe and nourishing space for us to talk openly and honestly about our anxieties. Fat Girl is for all body shapes, colours and sizes hoping that we can find clarity in the sharing of our more vulnerable experiences and empower us all to own our bodies.
This was originally posted in the Fat Girl Huff Post blog, head over there for more articles!