10 March 2014

I Would Like To See You Play Your Cards; Reveal Your Hands And Show Your Heart

One of those bitch face kind of days:


I'm sure by now almost everyone has read Cosmo's "WhatBeing A Fat Woman Is Really Like" article, which was published at the end of February. The piece set out to interview two plus-size women proud to call themselves fat, asking questions that covered topics across the spectrum -- from diet to fashion; from health to sex. 

I have been conflicted about this piece, because its existence is one of the many reminders that being fat is, and will undoubtedly remain for a good, long while, a negative stigma. It's almost as though we needed two women to talk about the hardships of being fat on a massively-produced, globally-acclaimed magazine for the mainstream to start believing it. Though part of me appreciates that Cosmo is trying to be more size-accepting and finally give space on the page to fuller-figured women (metaphorically, of course, because this was a web article), part of me is devastated that the problem today is still being fat as opposed to the way people who aren't fat treat people who are.

Another example of this recently: my breathtaking and inspiring friend Sarah Martindale, blogger and founder of the #BodyConfidenceWeek hashtag on Twitter as well as Fat Positive Liverpool, was on Daybreak a few weeks ago for a segment about the growing "obesity epidemic" in the UK. As a plus-size woman who is actively involved in spreading size acceptance, she was there to speak against fat shaming and to talk openly about the fact that just because there may very well be more fat people today than there were ten years ago, that in no way means that fat is normalized, let alone accepted (which was Dr. Hilary's argument -- the "health expert" on the show). It infuriated me to hear Dr. Hilary say that being fat is accepted in modernity. Tell that to the kid who is bullied and tortured for over ten years of school. Tell that to the thousands upon thousands thousands of men and women suffering from eating disorders. Tell that to the plethora of weight loss ads and campaigns that bombard the Internet and plaster city billboards. Tell that to the doctors who take one look at an "overweight" patient and decide he/she is unhealthy, without administering a single test. Normalized, really?

In the aftermath of the Cosmo story, dozens of curvy bloggers have set out to answer the questions for themselves, including two of my personal favorites: Cait from KitschVixen and Claire from AMonkey FatshionistaUnlike the women interviewed for Cosmo, these bloggers and others who posted similar post-Cosmo-pieces identified themselves. The lack of ID in the Cosmo piece was, to me, the one of the magazine's biggest failings. If you wish to give voices to fat women who are supposedly confident in their bodies, please give them faces, as well. That being said, I wanted to answer these questions for myself. I have spoken openly about my ED past. And I've spoken openly about the evolution of my plus-size pride. So I'll try speaking openly about these issues, as well. Though I still don't know what to make of the Cosmo article, and I worry it isn't as beneficial as it could have been, maybe I'm wrong.

How do you feel when other women around you complain about feeling/being fat?
Though it will always frustrate me to hear slender women complain about feeling/being fat, what is more concerning is the degree to which being fat is seen as a negative thing. If women weren’t conditioned to think that being fat is ugly and practically sinful, they could go on with their lives worrying about more important things.

How has your body image changed since high school? College?
Immeasurably. I spent most of high school hating myself, feeling the need to change, feeling like I was doing something wrong by being heavier. I think deep down I have always felt that curves are beautiful, and that having a fuller-figure is attractive. But I was made to feel bad about it, and in consequence, turned those negative feelings into self-hate. Early college was pretty much the same. It was junior year, after going abroad and surrounding myself with positive people, that things began to change for the better.

Have you tried dieting? What happened?
I was on a diet from age 12 to age 20. As many of you know, the earlier years were spent crash dieting, and in reality, I was killing myself. The latter of those years I gained a lot of weight, and spent most of my time counting calories or trying desperately to lose it all at the gym. I don’t think I ever dieted in a healthy way, because to my doctors and sources of self-hate, doing it healthily didn’t matter.

Do you think in your case your weight is partly or entirely genetic?
I would say it’s an even split. My father’s side of the family is tall and very big-boned. Even at my lowest weight, I still looked larger than most people because of my bone structure. My mother’s side, which is the Colombian side, is responsible for my curves, large hips and substantial rear end. But at the end of the day, I like to eat. I no longer monitor myself and I indulge in the foods I love, regardless of calorie count.

Do you consider yourself healthy? Have there been instances where people have assumed you are unhealthy?
I find it extremely difficult to define health, because it’s such a subjective thing. I am healthier emotionally and mentally than I have been for most of my life, and that is my priority. In terms of fitness (which most people correlate to health), I could afford to be more active, and am trying to get back into a workout routine. People assume I am unhealthy constantly, though. Part of it isn’t their fault. We are taught from childhood that being fat means being unhealthy. But I can show them my blood tests, my cholesterol levels, my blood pressure – it’s all perfect.

Are your parents both supportive of the weight you’re at? Have they always been?
My father grew up extremely poor with very little to eat or drink. A priority for him as a dad was, and still is, to make sure his kids are all well fed. To him, being thicker is a sign of good health, so I think he appreciates that I am fuller-figured. My mother struggled with her own body image for so much of her life that I think she projected it onto me from childhood and onwards. She is susceptible to all the “you can only be healthy if you’re thin” stuff, partly be because she feels healthier at a lower weight, and partly because she’s Colombian, and was taught to believe that one should be curvy, but not too curvy.

How do you think retailers can improve clothes for plus-size people?
Well, the first step is to expand their size ranges, and actually sell clothes for plus-size people. And once they do that, avoid pricing plus-sizes higher than their straight-size counterparts. Yeah, I know bigger garments mean more fabric costs, but sales would increase so much by extending the size range that any excess fabric costs will seem minimal, I’m sure.

Do you think plus-sized women are judged differently to plus-sized men? How?
I think fat people, regardless of gender, will always be mistreated and judged harshly. Fat is considered a problem, and consequently, fat people are seen as a problem. I do, however, think plus-size women are under more pressure by the media. Melissa McCarthy, for instance, is probably far more fat shamed than Kevin James.

Do you think there is an assumption made/stereotypes that exist about plus-size people? How would you respond to it?
·      Fat people are lazy/useless.
·      Fat people are unhealthy.
·      Fat people are unattractive.
·      Fat people don’t have sex/or fat people are easy (apparently they are not mutually exclusive).
·      And one of the worst things I have ever heard in my lifetime: fat people are never the victims of sexual assault.
I try my best to speak out against these things publicly, and through my blog, but at the end of the day, these comments are fired by ignorance, self-hate, boredom and human cruelty, which may just be human nature for most people. I have very little respect for homo sapiens and their treatment of each other, and don’t expect any better at this point.

Do you think there’s ever a right way/time to express concern about someone’s weight?
No. A person’s weight is their business, and their concern alone. If a health problem is proven to be directly caused by a person’s weight, then their doctor should address it. That being said, people need to understand that fat is not a disease or illness. Illnesses can arise from being fat, yes, as they can from drinking or smoking or traveling and drinking the water in a foreign country.

What are the worst things people have said to you about your weight?
I can’t remember the insults I received as a kid. I got a lot of “mira esa gringa gorda” – or look at the fat American on visits to Colombia as a child and teen. And a “mira esa barrigota” – look at that massive belly – from a relative. They may not sound hideous, but when they come from the people who are supposed to care about you most, then they are a whole different level of painful.

How did you respond?
In the past, it was always tears or silence. I’ve always been far too passive aggressive for my own good. But today, whenever I get the: You have such a beautiful face; think how pretty you’d be if you lost weight, I try to make it a point to express that I already AM pretty, and part of that beauty comes from every bit of fat on my body.

What have people said (or do you wish they’d say) that would compliment your body or appearance?
These days, I get loads of compliments for my curves. I have learned to surround myself with positive people, and they consistently compliment my appearance as well as the person I am within. I still wish certain people would be capable of telling me I am beautiful without making the comment about my face alone. Not because I need their acceptance or praise, but because it would show progress in their mindsets, and that would be nice to see.

Do you find yourself hanging out with women who are closer to your size?
It’s a mix. One of my best friends is a size-2 whilst the other is a size-22. In a way, I prefer hanging out with thicker women, because it then creates a fully non-judgment zone. We all appreciate each other’s bodies genuinely, and have a sense of camaraderie that’s trickier to find with people who are far smaller and cannot relate.

How has your weight affected your sex life, if at all?
In terms of actual sex, not at all. If a person is trying to be intimate with you, they obviously find you attractive and want to be doing it/you.

When you’ve been single, has your weight affected your dating life?
I was very skeptical of dating for my entire adolescence because my self-esteem was so low. I was told that men only like thin women so many times that I got to that “why bother then” point and chose to be single for most of my teen years. I regret it immensely now, because dating is such a vital part of growing up, and no one should feel unworthy of those experiences. 

Do you feel weird if the guy you’re with only dates larger women?
Would you ask a thin woman whose partner has only ever dated thin women the same question? Most people have preferences, and there is nothing wrong with that.

Do you feel weird if he’s only dated slimmer women before you?
Nope; if anything it just shows he finds beauty in more than one type, and that is very redeemable.

4 comments:

  1. Thank you for being a voice for body acceptance. I was happy that I found your blog because you inspire me to not want to crash diet or hate myself anymore. You are so beautiful and prove that a woman doesn't have to fit into any sort of standard to be so.

    I also have a larger body structure, and no matter how much weight I lose, I will not fit into anything less than a US size 12. I've been a size 16 for a few years now, and I'm slowly coming to accept my body more. The existence of blogs like yours encourages me to find beauty within myself.

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    1. Thank you so much, Danielle. Your comment really means a lot to me. Personally, I think you have such a stunning face and figure. I have massive bones, so I can completely relate. Even at my smallest, which is probably an 8 or 10 in US sizes, I still looked wide. And honestly I prefer the extra weight because it prevents me from looking really athletic and boyish, which just doesn't suit me.

      I hope you keep finding beauty in yourself, because there's so much of it!

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  2. I find it hard to comment intelligently on this issue, because it makes me so emotional. My mom is currently trying really hard to lose weight, which in her case probably would improve her health (she has sleep apnea, blood pressure issues, etc) and it just breaks my heart to see how much she hates her body. It's one thing to want to get in shape, that's always great, but she thinks she is disgusting and she is so wrong about that. She is beautiful. I hope I can grow up to be comfortable in my body and pass that confidence on to my children/the people are me.

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  3. Thank you so much for your honesty and for sharing this. I am really sorry to hear about your mother and her issues with herself. I think the fact that any person can get to that point of self hatred is so devastating. It is learned behavior, acquired after years and decades of being told there's something wrong with being heavier (as with a lot of "unappealing" traits, be it acne or scars or cellulite). You just have to keep telling her she is beautiful, and if she does need to lose weight for health reasons, I suppose you could encourage her whilst reiterating that no matter the weight she is, she is still beautiful. And as for you, my dear, you know I think you are stunning, inside and out.

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