Myth Three: Fat is Unwanted

Dr. Pattie Thomas wrote a book called Taking Up Space: How Eating Well and Exercising Regularly Changed My Life that is just really awesome. If you haven’t read it, it’s well worth investing in.

The first chapter of the book has 10 fat myths. As I read them, I had so many ideas and thoughts and things I wanted to say about each one. I contacted Dr. Thomas and she said that it would be okay for me to use her list to talk about each of the myths here. So–welcome to a 10-week Thursday series.

Myth number one on Dr. Thomas’ list: Fat is unwanted.

I’ll be honest. I really struggled with buying that the statement “fat is unwanted” is a myth.

I mean, fat is clearly unwanted, right? Few people really, truly want it, and in my mind as I was thinking this week about the wanted-ness of fat, I was startled to find that when I tried to think about people who might actually really want fat it was really difficult.

Yep. This is one I really had to unpack and take a look at, if only so I could understand my own reaction to the idea.

Do I want my own fat? I am getting more comfortable in my own skin. I’m getting more comfortable with having a body that doesn’t conform to the beauty myth. And it doesn’t make sense to wonder what I’d do if given the choice to be thin, because I won’t ever be given that choice any more than I’ll ever have the choice to be short or have blue eyes.

In fact, every other part of my physical self, I’m capable of accepting fully the way it is. Curly hair, big feet, big boobs, a round face, being tall, having brown eyes–all of it. I don’t put moral judgments on any of it. I don’t try to pretend that I can change any of it. I don’t hate any of it. I don’t feel the need to embrace any of it. It just is.

So perhaps the idea of fat being unwanted is goes back to the magical thinking I talked about the other day. Collectively, most of Western society is caught up in the huge bubble of magical thinking that says that if we are good enough, and diligent enough, and would just stop being lazy, slothful gluttons, then we can get rid of the fat we don’t want.

Try this experiment. Next time someone you love talks to you about their most recent diet or how they need to do something about their thunder thighs, tell them that you aren’t trying to lose weight. Really watch what happens when you try to bounce your ideas off the walls of their magical thinking. Maybe they’ll miss every point you make so spectacularly that it seems willful (You: I’m eating intuitively. Them: So, you’re saying you don’t care if you get diabetes.) Maybe they’ll get angry, taking your decision very personally. But you’ll see how protective they are of their magical thinking.

Maybe the real myth here is that we can do anything about not wanting fat.

Or maybe the myth is that fat has to be unwanted.

There isn’t any shame in declaring that I enjoy being tall and that I don’t care that I’m taller than my husband. There isn’t any in refusing to go broke and insane trying to make my hair straight. There is no shame in thinking I have pretty brown eyes or liking the shape of my feet. But if I’m going to suggest that I’m okay with being fat, I have to be willing to sift through a bunch of it from myself and from other people.

But, I’m actually finding it hard, as I type this, to say “I want my fat.” It makes me uncomfortable. It pushes against the edges of my personal envelope. What I find myself wanting to say instead is “I want all the parts of my body,” which kind of mitigates the weirdness, the anti-socialness of “I want my fat,” doesn’t it?

Calling “fat is unwanted” a myth means that while many people believe its true that fat is unwanted, in reality it is wanted.

Is it? When people say they want to be thin, when they spend their money and their time and their physical and emotional energy on attempt after attempt to lose weight, is it really their fat they don’t want?

I mean, even people who have no ill effects as a result of their fat want to lose it. Lots of people who are in the illusive normal BMI range want to lose their fat. People who can pass for thin want to lose their fat (ever here someone say that they’re fatter than they look?) In other words, wanting to lose fat is not reserve for fat people and it is certainly not reserved for sick fat people.

So are we really feeling something else, and just blaming it on our fat?

Maybe a desperate desire to fit in that never really stops after middle school?

Maybe we’re scared by all the booga-booga about fat trying kill us. Who wouldn’t want to lose a serial killer that’s wrapped around your abdomen?

Maybe we want to conform to the myth that only thin is beautiful, and if we could internalize the idea that we are already beautiful, our fat could become more welcomed and less unwanted.

I’m the fat one in a relatively slender family. My sister is four inches taller and weighs 100 pounds less than me. My decision to stop trying to lose weight has made her so uncomfortable that she can’t even talk to me anymore. I’m always slightly uncomfortable eating in front of them, always making sure to make a ‘healthy’ choice and eat a little less than everyone else–and still I get accused of eating McDonald’s five times a week by my brother on my public Facebook page. I’m pretty sure that my dad believes his concern about my weight has to do with my health, but I know he thinks skinny girls are prettier. He left my mom for a skinny woman, didn’t he?

Being fat can be an emotionally exhausting experience, especially when you’re putting most of everything you have into trying desperately to be one of those very rare birds who can do something about not wanting their fat. Being ‘other’ in your own family is a whole lot less than fun.

And what about the people who aren’t fat, but spend so much of their resources on the desperate desire to keep it that way? Those who have managed to actually lose their weight and then spend the rest of their lives in some kind of cat-and-mouse chase trying to keep it from finding them again. Or those who live in fear of one bite too much sending them spiraling into fatness.

Yeah, there is a lot of baggage that goes along with being fat or even just the idea of fat. Lots of it isn’t even rational, but that doesn’t make it any less real. And I think maybe in the end that’s what this myth is about. It isn’t the fat we don’t want. If we lived in a world where body types were morally neutral, we wouldn’t spend any more time trying to get rid of horizontal inches than we do vertical inches.

What if its the pain and humiliation and shame and rejection–and a million other things that are so hard to articulate we don’t want, and it’s just easier to say that we don’t want fat?

What do you think about the idea of “fat is unwanted” being a myth?

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