I have a problem with the word ‘deserve.’ I have for as long as I can remember.
When I hear someone say, “I deserve . . .” followed by some material something, I can’t stop the immediate reaction: No, you don’t. I can usually keep it from coming out, but not always.
That being said, I do, of course, believe there are some things that are deserved.
There are lots of things I consider basic human rights. See Maslow’s hierarchy of needs pyramid up there? I believe that every human being deserves all of those things.
This is why I support public service programs and why you will never hear me say we should take care of our own first. Until everyone on Earth has the basics that they deserve, then I don’t have a problem giving up the privileges that I have by virtue of birth as a middle-class American white kid.
I know it isn’t possible for every person on Earth to be brought up to the standard that many white, middle-class and wealthy Americans think they deserve. There just aren’t enough resources for that. In order for everyone to have enough, to have the things on the pyramid, the privileged have to be willing to have less. This is a concept that is important to me. One I take seriously.
Lots of people are writing about the right to occupy space in the FA-sphere lately. I’ve honestly never thought about it before. I mean, inherent in my general philosophy of life, I believe that people with disabilities are entitled to the space they need to be present and comfortable. I have no problem with, and have actually been trained to testify in front of legislation about, people having the accommodations people with different abilities need to be included in society.
And yet. Any yet, I have done everything I can to take up as little space as possible since I was a little girl.
I hunch and scrunch my body, hold my breath, press my flesh into hard metal barriers–anything to make myself as small as possible. I apologize if someone is forced to touch me in tight quarters. I push myself into the corner of an elevator if there are a lot of people on it, even though I’m claustrophobic and this makes me very uncomfortable. I cross my arms over my body and press my thighs together, in an effort to not take one more inch than is necessary.
I once took a workshop where the participants had to sit in desks with attached chairs. I wedged myself in there so tightly that I had an honest-to-God bruise across my abdomen for a week, rather than just pulling up a regular chair to the side of a desk to work at. I didn’t want to be out in the aisle way. I didn’t want to take up more space than everyone else.
I have also rarely taken a single bite of food in nearly 30 years or exercised a single moment in nearly 20 without thinking about whether or not that bite or that step would decrease the amount of space I take up in the world.
I’m new to fat acceptance. Many of the people talking about this have long since realized that they are entitled to the space their body occupies. That it is something they deserve.
But even as I write this, I asked myself what I was doing. Of course I believe I deserve the same things that other people deserve. And in some ways, I do believe that. I would voice the opinion that I do. I have not had a problem accepting education, for example. Or clean water.
And food? It’s right there, on the very bottom of the pyramid. The base on which all the other basic human needs rests on. So important that all of the other layers of need can’t fully be actualized without it.
I have been on diets that restricted my calories to anorexic levels in an all-encompassing effort to take up less space. I am still working on being able to feel full–not bursting full, just satisfied–without feeling guilty for eating too much.
Sure, there is the health thing. I’ve said many times that I was going on a diet/changing my lifestyle/watching my portions because I wanted to be healthier. But, let’s be honest. I wanted to be skinny. My first husband left me a couple of months after he told me that he just wasn’t attracted to big women for a woman he likes to point out weighs 112 pounds soaking wet . Trust me, I did not care about the state of my heart, except that it was broken, or whether I might get diabetes some day. I wanted to be thin.
And then I got older. And fell in love again, and my heart healed. And I did care more about my health–but being brutally honest, when I bought books like the South Beach Diet or the Superfoods Diet or the Mediterranean Diet, even though my mouth was saying I wanted to be healthy, my head knew better. I wanted to be thin.
I wanted to take up less space.
I did everything I could think of for decades to force myself to fit into the box of air space I thought I was entitled to. One that would accommodate a size 8 woman, but not a size 14, and then 16, and then 18 and so on to 26–because the harder I tried to shrink, the more space I took up.
Kind of like the reverse of one of those Chinese toys where you stick your fingers in the ends and the harder you try to pull them out, the smaller the space inside becomes.
I am still acutely aware that clean water is a right and having hot and cold running water available at the twist of a faucet is a privilege. Or that having adequate food is a right, while having access to basically any food I want at any time is privilege.
I am starting to learn to accept that being comfortable in my own skin is something that everyone deserves, too. The right to take up the space you take up is something you and I and everyone else deserves to be able to do. It’s part of the tip of the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs pyramid. Self-actualization. If you take a hard look at that pyramid, you’ll see the path to that kind of self-acceptance.
Athleticism lives up there in the tip, for me, as well. The right to say I’m an athlete now, and not 100 or even 200 pounds from now. Being able to afford or have access to a gym or join teams or participate in events that cost a lot of money and time are a privilege. Moving my body with purpose and training it are a right that I firmly believe everyone is entitled to, if that is part of their self-actualization, but it’s really hard to get there if you are lacking one of the lower levels of need.
I can’t control what other people do. I can’t stop someone from not wanting to sit next to me in an airplane, for instance. Or giving me a dirty look if they have to touch me to squeeze into a crowded elevator. But, I can stop myself from feeding that by focusing my time and energy and resources on trying to shrink to accommodate them. And once I do that, I can accept that I have the right to the space I occupy. I am under no obligation to try to force my size 26 body into a size 8 box.
I’m not there yet, to the tip of the pyramid, but everyday I get a little closer.