How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Fat

Lynne Murray says:

Laurie suggested I guest blog about fat language, and I find myself looking into the pool of ideas that the mist of words rises up out of. Language is alive as a sort of cultural breath that changes as we move through it, and I think words come from a deeper place in us than we realize. Words are the hammer that drives the poison sliver of any sort of prejudice into our hearts. When it is fat hatred that poisons us, it invites us to split off and label as bad that part of our bodies that we define as fat.

I’ve been a Buddhist since 1968, but I still remember the sting that first summer when a cruel boyfriend called me a “fat Buddha” after the well-known statue of the Bodhisattva Hotei, often called the Laughing Buddha. I was 19, and not actually fat by any sane measure (175 pounds at 5’5″) although both then and now that is considered overweight. It was meant as an insult to both my body and my religion. I got it–and eventually got rid of the boyfriend.

Over the years as I’ve come to accept my body, even now at over 300 pounds (still 5’5″) as it more closely resembles that much-feared statue, I’ve begun to see what the Laughing Buddha was laughing about. He’s confident, nurturing–often depicted with children playing around his knees–and pats his belly with serene good cheer. I once dated a fat man once, who playfully referred to himself as “Hotei in a bow tie.” Clearly my taste in companionship has improved with age and heft.

My own playfulness with language is probably more story-oriented than that of some other activists I admire. I don’t feel comfortable shaking a hot pink pom pom in the face of prejudice as Marilyn Wann does when she uses “fun fat” words like flabulous, just as I admire, but couldn’t see myself joining the gang at Pretty, Porky, and Pissed Off. I’ve insufficient perk to the pound for that kind of guerilla action.

I do feel moved to counter the torrent of fat-hating words that rain down on us every day, telling us that the body’s own fat is false padding, diseased tissue, or a foreign invader we can somehow starve out, cut out or flush out–the flush metaphor implies that fat is a waste product.

To the degree that we swallow this poison, we find ourselves hating and trying to banish an integral part of our own body. When we are constantly fighting ourselves, we can’t win anything. As the founder of my own Buddhist sect puts it:

Even an individual at cross purposes with himself is certain to end in failure. Yet a hundred or even a thousand people can definitely attain their goal if they are of one mind. . . . Many raging fires are quenched by a single shower of rain, and many evil forces are vanquished by a single great truth.
–Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, Vol. 1, page 153

How do we pull out the poison sliver, and heal a heart divided against itself? The first step is to stop hitting ourselves. You can take that literally if it applies–I mean it that way also. Before we can change, we have to be aware of the way we talk about fat to ourselves and others.

At the wonderful body positive site I found an interesting suggestion (particularly aimed at interacting with fat children). It urges first awareness and then combatting the tendency to project negative traits onto fat.

Observe the “fat talk” between yourselves and others, and in your own head. What feelings would you be expressing if you couldn’t use the words, “fat, ugly, disgusting, bad”?

What would a non-judgmental exploration of fat, and respect for fat’s role in the body look like? I found this lovely
interview
with Dr. Garry Egger, Professor of Health Sciences at Deakin University:

“My eyes light up talking about fat. I’m one of the few people that are fascinated by this whole area of fat – the evolution of it and the current biology of it. The fat cell is a lot cleverer than anybody’s ever thought. It’s got an amazing number of functions – sending messages out, getting them back. It’s the appestat, if you like, in the brain. It tells the brain we’ve had enough to eat, switches it off, and says, “I’m satisfied. I don’t need any more.” And that comes from the fat cell itself.

I’m sure Bodhisattva Hotei would understand this point of view. I decided to see if I could channel his wisdom in an imaginary focus-group interview, examining his attitude toward fat.

If fat had a favorite song, what would it be? All of Me.

If fat were a soft drink, what kind might it be? Root beer, because it’s the root of abundance.

If fat were an automobile, what sort might it be? Something built for comfort, not for speed. By day a mini-van to carry an abundance of children, and at night a Bentley sedan–comfortable, solid-bodied, high-performance and luxurious.

If the body were the Starship Enterprise, which crew member would fat be? One of specialist “engine room” crew members–like “Scotty” Scott in the original Star Trek, or Geordi La Forge in The Next Generation, monitoring the dilithium crystals that power the ship, reinforcing the hull against cold and external attack, and keeping the engines running in the best of times and the worst of times.

<br /> fat<br /> <a href="http://technorati.com/tag/body image" rel="tag nofollow" class="broken_link">body+image</a><br /> Star Trek<br /> <a href="http://technorati.com/tag/body+positive" rel="tag nofollow" class="broken_link">body positive</a><br /> Marilyn Wann<br /> fat talk<br /> language<br /> Nichiren+Buddhism<br /> Nichiren+Buddhism<br /> Lynne Murray<br /> <a href="http://technorati.com/tag/Body+Impolitic" rel="tag nofollow" class="broken_link">Body Impolitic</a></p> <p>

15 thoughts on “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Fat

  1. That is a wonderful post, Lynne. You really should consider writing professionally. :-) I love the fat buddha, btw, every time I see one, I smile. Thanks also for the perspective on fat, for saying that you were not really fat (except in the eyes of the culture) at 175 pounds & 5’5″. I have always considered myself fat, though I have seldom faced discrimination for my body size (it is generally reserved for my CP). I am 5’6″ & have, for the majority of my adult life, weighed somewhere between 175 & 190. People who love me generally protest & say, “But you’re not fat. You are just lush & round & well-proportioned. Besides, you exercise.” And I know that that comes from the cultural belief that fat is bad & ugly & somehow diseased…as you say, a toxin to be flushed out of the body. I can easily get a stronger reaction from people by calling myself fat than I can by calling myself disabled.

    As an abuse survivor (including sexual abuse), I fight the body image battle every day, succeeding more some days than others but overall coming to accept & love my natural body more even as it ages & the weight redistributes & gravity is stronger. I want to be as at home in my body as the laughing Buddha & I would wish that for all of us. Thanks so much for sharing your perspective.

  2. Thanks, Patsy! (I keep trying to write professionally but the publishers only sometimes cooperate–LOL. So I paraphrase Moliere when he compared writing to prostitution–first you do it for pleasure, then for a few close friends, finally for money.) By the way, having lived in my more active youth in the same weight range you are, it’s a weight at which a great many people can still define your size as “healthy”–depending on the degree of their craziness around weight. To get a perspective, I had a “goal” at age 19 of losing enough weight to weigh 117 (I don’t know where I got this number, from a movie magazine no doubt). Even starving, my body raised its shields and never retreated below 160 pounds. Now I have a friend who is 5’5″ and battles a chronic illness. She constantly fights to keep her weight up to 125 at 5’5″ and if you look at her, you see how frail she is. When her weight slips below 120, we all fear for her–anemia is a real and present factor. Yet when we go out, people ask for her “diet secret” and she feels like saying “chronic, life-threatening illness.” I would have aspired to be thinner than this! Truly we live in a firestorm of insanity, and every day we survive and honor our bodies is a miracle.

  3. Amen, Lynne, yes we do. And would you believe that for two years or so in my mid-twenties, with a toddler to care for, & exercised compulsively enough & denied myself nourishment enough to stay at around 125 pounds. I got all kinds of compliments, I had the measurements of a Playboy centerfold, & I was weak, tired, anemic, got every damn bug which came along, had no sex drive, & my middle brother asked if I had tuberculosis. However, I was at the weight our culture told me I should be. I had, in my late teens & early 20’s, always weighed around 155 when I left myself alone & ate normally (& I have always been active), but after that sojourn at 125, I hit 170, dieted back to 156, then learned I was pregnant. Ironically, at 156 pounds for my first prenatal exam, the young resident wrote something about “possible complications of pregnancy” on my chart this lovely judgment…”obese”. At 5’6″, 156 pounds, I had been pronounced obese. The pregnancy was normal, the Lamaze delivery 16 hours long but not complicated, & the baby boy was 9 pounds & very healthy (he is now 6’3″ & about 225 pounds.)

    Since then I have only dipped below 175 once, a few years ago when I once again fell into compulsive exercise, working out 3 to 4 hours daily, for over three years. I got down to 165 pounds this time before I came to my senses. Since then, it is usually 180/190 &, yes, aside from the CP, which is a birth defect & some arthritis, which is not uncommon for a woman approaching 57, I am in excellent health & still exercising every day…but in a sane way. However, this culture wants me to “do something about myself”, despite the fact that dieting is one of the most damaging things we can do to ourselves & it becomes more hazardous as we age, greatly increasing the mortality risks for older people.

    As you say, Lynne, that we can survive & develop any self-esteem & honor our bodies & develop a positive body image is a miracle. A great deal of money is made by a great many people by promoting negative body image, low self-esteem, as well as false “health” fears & beliefs. We need to do all we can to help each other appreciate the beauty of each us every day.

  4. Thanks Josh! Patsy, I agree about helping each other see the beauty by pulling back the curtain of prejudice. It’s also been my experience that even when it is most difficult (some days worse than others), after many years of accepting and respecting my body I simply could not go back to hating and torturing it for not meeting an impossible standard.
    Hard to go forward, but impossible to turn back. Lynne

  5. Indeed it is, Lynne, hard to go forward but impossible to turn back to living that way again. And, in re-reading my post, I was once again struck by the fact that, in over 3 years of daily compulsive exercise, I lost a GRAND TOTAL of about 15-20 pounds, or maybe 5-7 pounds yearly. That’s really something worth nearly killing oneself & ruining one’s joints for, isn’t it? And, gee, how can we question the beliefs of the culture that we can lose weight if we really WANT to?!!! God, I wish that we could get all people, & especially ALL females, since this insanity infects us the worst, to see the truth & love the natural bodies they were given & stop damaging their health & limiting their lives by fighting their biology & their genes. My own greatest aim is Body Liberation For All!

  6. Buddha should be the patron saint of fat acceptance. In addition to the fat Buddhas and the promotion of compassion, Buddha tried starving himself, found it didn’t accomplish anything he wanted, and gave it up.

  7. Thanks for the bit of information, Nancy. I have always loved the fat buddhas I have seen in photos, the pictures or little statues, but I didn’t know just how truly he was one of us. “Tried starving himself, found it didn’t accomplish anything he wanted, & gave it up.” That sounds like a direct quote from many of our own life stories.

  8. Okay- so here is the thing- you have accepted it. SO tell me how to deal with women who HATE me because I am thin. Not by design, not by choice, but by some weird thing. So, tell me how I get on THEIR good side. I do not have to say a word, and if they are with a friend and a man (both conditions usually need to be met) I am hated.

    I do not wear makeup. My hair is up in a work hairstyle. I am never impolite. I am aware enough to make sure that I look after the women first. I do not joke with the men.

    But every weekend without fail I have a woman completely be snotty, rude and demeaning simply because I am thin.

    If only this woman knew the shit I went through in my life. But no- she judges me because she thinks her man might look my way? Please. I have my own man, I have kids and I have a life. The last thing I am looking at is her man.

    What the hell do I do in that situation- and no this is not a joke- it is an honest plea to figure out how I can manage this rudeness.

    They are the only people who write mean things on comment cards- ever.

  9. Hi skinnychik, I think you’re describing the other side of the same coin–or a different side of the same problem. I won’t say that “it’s not your problem” because obviously you have to deal with it every day. But it’s not your issue, if you see what I mean. It’s the issue of the women who feel threatened by you.

    You are closer to the ultrathin ideal, so some women feel your presence as a threat and an accusation that they should be thinner. Those same people if they saw my 300-plus pound body would be terrified that it could happen to them too. (I literally have had people say in my presence that they would kill themselves if they got this fat.)

    These women might be afraid that their man is way too interested. Incidentally, as a fat woman when my late husband was alive I witnessed women who openly flirted with him as if I wasn’t there. The women may be reacting to something that happened before that you have no control over (or knowledge of). Some not-so-nice men use their woman’s discomfort over her body to score points by saying, “no, I wasn’t flirting with her, but you could use a few pounds.” When my husband was still alive, a new neighbor showed up at our door who was not just thin, but gorgeous and “workin’ it” with a helpless Southern belle thing at my husband. They compared accents and just happened to both be from Richmond, VA–same high school, etc. Rather than go help her with her out-of-gas car, he told her where a nearby gas station was and lent her his gas can. This from a man who would help any stranger change a tire or jump start a dead battery. He totally got that she was trying to get over on him and said, no thanks.

    From what you say I’m sure you’re not doing anything to invite male attention or women’s jealous. But you may be looking at a couple where the woman is insecure and the man is playing it for all it’s worth. The only satisfaction for you in that situation is to let go of it immediately and be glad you’re not living in this woman’s head.

    The power dynamic of fat (bad) and thin (good) in our culture is real and sometimes we have to deal with it the best we can. I see it when my very fat self and my very thin friend go places. Sometimes we get proactive and I will make the joke that people are always getting us mixed up because we are both exactly the same height! But I have to be the one to make that joke because she is closer to the very thin ideal and if she made the joke it would look as if she was pointing out my size and comparing herself favorably, which she would never do.

    Practical suggestion, as a Buddhist now, I give this immediately to the universe. If you’re from a Judeo Christian tradition, give it to God or a Higher Power. If you come from a martial arts tradition, I’d say, let the energy flow past and around you Seriously, these people are nasty to you because they are twisted up inside. From what you say, you’re in a work environment and you can’t (a) leave or (b) tell them to shove it. You don’t want to engage with their nastiness, so you have to detach and let their hatred move past you. When I have a bad day and this stuff gets into my head, I may say to myself many times,”I’m giving this to the universe now.” If this doesn’t make sense, ask again and I’ll try to say it more clearly!

    May the Force be with you and the Jerks begone!
    Lynne

  10. Oops, sorry skinnychik, I just looked at my comment and realized that what a mean boyfriend/husband would say to get on his women’s case would be, “no I wasn’t flirting with her, but you could LOSE a few pounds.” I believe that’s a direct quote from several old, discarded boyfriends I endured! Lynne

  11. Skinnychik, I’m so sorry that you go through this. I agree with Lynne that it’s two sides of the same coin.

    I absolutely hear you that this is not a joke, and it’s always disturbing to be disliked, especially for things you have no control over. I don’t have any answers, but I do know that one thing that works for me is checking into whether I’ve done anything I need to apologize for, and if I haven’t, just smiling and letting it pass. (Often, I mutter under my breath, “I’m so sorry that your life is so hard that you feel you have to be hard on me.” Sometimes I say it out loud.)

    It’s all part of the culture where we judge each other based on looks and superficialities. The fatter women get misused, and they take it out on whoever they can, because they hurt. And then you hurt.

    I guess my best answer is that anything you can do to help break the cycle, like smiling at fat women when you see them on the street, is a little bit of help.

    And good luck!

  12. I just wanted to stop by & read this again & say that I think this is perhaps my favorite of all the posts I have read here. It is so affirming & helps me to reaffirm my commitment to be gentle, loving, & accepting with my body & not to back down or give in, to keep being an activist & keep trying to make others aware, to try to help people stop fearing their bodies, their food, stop believing that they must turn themselves inside out in order to live “right” & assure health & longevity, because those things are gifts of genetics & luck & almost entirely beyond our control. I draw strength from knowing that there are others who “get it” & when I see more onslaughts against us, even to now attacking fat babies, I know that we need all the strength we can have to arm us against the insanity & the fat hatred.

    There are other good posts, other uplifting & affirming posts, but this, Lynne, is the best, I think. I enjoyed the post at ALLgirlarmy about the girl who loves her body, & that is wonderful, but she is only 18 & has a long way to grow (though she is off to a great start at an early age.) In the comments, I read something she said about how it is probably fine if we “eat better & start to exercise more, & then maybe just lose some weight naturally”, a comment so many of us have made, but that kind of thinking is a step down the road to healthism, to a belief that the only good people are those who live a certain way, that, at least to some extent, we can & should exercise some control over the size & shape of our bodies.

    No, this post about not worrying & loving the fat is, for me, what fat acceptance is about. Loving all of ourselves as we are, without conditions, living at home in our bodies, owning them, & knowing that our size & how we live is no one’s business but our own. And this activism, Lynne, is more powerful than waving pompoms or chanting slogans. It reaches the soul & touches the heart & helps us to see ourselves more clearly & with more. Thanks again.

  13. Thanks to you too for saying so Patsy. I agree that posts like the one at ALLgirlarmy give us hope that more and more young women won’t respond to the pressures to diet and hate their bodies. This is a tremendous leap in its own quiet way, one mind and body at a time.

    But those of us who have survived seasons in diet hell and forged a positive outlook can testify that it is a skill set. It can be learned. It’s worth it to clearing away the impossible yearning for arbitrary “perfection” that gets in the way of living every day and appreciating how our bodies do work.
    Take care!

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