For my entire existence, I have navigated the world in a fat body. Let me tell you, the world has not always been kind to me for this reason. However, it has allowed me to gain a unique perspective that has fueled my passion to speak out against weight stigma, to champion for patient-centered care for larger-bodied clients, and to promote the normalization of all bodies.
I will say, I did not always view my existence in a fat body as a positive experience. Honestly, I resented this fact throughout most of my childhood, adolescence, and even my college years. It was not until I became a dietitian that I truly appreciated everything I have learned and experienced as a fat-bodied individual. My experience has allowed me to become the most empathetic and compassionate version of myself. This transformation has facilitated my ability to deliver the highest level of patient-centered care to my clients, because I have seen the world from their point of view. Here is what I have learned.
1. Most people assume that I want to and am actively trying to lose weight.
In our society, there tends to be this one-size-fits-all mentality when it comes to health and wellness. In order to be considered healthy, you have to possess a thin, muscular body. So naturally, if you do not have this said body shape, you “should” be actively trying to lose weight. And who does not want to be healthy?
But that is where in the misconception lies- YOU DO NOT NEED TO LOSE WEIGHT OR EXIST IN A CERTAIN BODY SHAPE OR SIZE TO BE HEALTHY. Weight is not the ultimate deciding factor. Your health behaviors, stress levels, resources, and genetics all play a role in your health. It is completely possible to live in a larger body and be healthy without working to lose weight. (AND being in an unhealthy body does NOT make you any less valuable as a unique individual.)
What is amazing too- people are stunned to hear that I am a dietitian in a fat body who is not trying to lose weight. They are genuinely flabbergasted, thinking that I “should know better” due to my area of expertise. Not to mention, the amount of unsolicited weight loss advice that I receive is astounding (and frankly mentally exhausting).
I am constantly told that I need to ditch intuitive eating, reduce my caloric intake, cut out carbs, and start exercising more in order to lose weight because they are “concerned for my health”. My response? “Intuitive eating has helped to heal my relationship with food and my body. It is the reason I have learned to respect my body and care for it in the way that it deserves. This is the happiest and healthiest I have been in my entire life.” (In other words, f*** your diet-centric beliefs.)
2. The world is not designed for people in fat bodies.
As an individual in a fat body, you are very much aware of the amount of space you take up. Buses are very hard to move through when they get full. The number of dirty looks I have received trying to sit down in a seat is obnoxiously high- “how dare you think your fat body will fit here?!” I have literally tried to fold myself up like origami to prove that I do not take up “that much” space. Planes are just a whole other fun issue. The first time I asked for a seat belt extender had to be one of the most awkward times of my life. I remember sitting there with my mind pacing back and forth, “Do I ask for a seat belt extender? I mean what are the chances this plane is going to fall out of the sky and I will need one?” I decided not to risk it.
Likewise, most seating in any public space is not designed for fat bodies. Restaurant booths, waiting rooms chairs, classroom desks, and medical equipment are often too small or are not designed to hold more than 250 pounds. I vividly remember having a conversation with one of my friends (who is also in a fat body) describing how she researches new places before visiting them to see if she will be able to sit comfortably or even fit in their space.
Clothes are a whole other issue. It wasn’t until within the last decade that trendy clothes were available to those in fat bodies. And even now, the choices are very limited. I wear a size 24-28 and am unable to walk into any store to try on clothes. There are very select stores that carry my size. Furthermore, these stores tend to only be located in limited large cities and charge high prices for their products. And yes, we can order clothes online now, but body shapes have such a huge range. Sometimes, you just want to be able to try something on before purchasing it.
3. Weight stigma is real…and it is everywhere.
Weight stigma is treated as one of the acceptable forms of discrimination in our society. On social media posts alone, you can read hundreds of comments demeaning people, because they do not fit in within the standards of the thin ideal. (Literally look up any video of someone in a fat body eating ANY food, showing off an outfit, or even moving their body. The comment sections are disgustingly cruel.)
A couple of years ago when I initially started my YouTube channel, I made a video about ways to become more body positive. Another YouTuber took my video and spliced it with his own commentary about how I needed to lose weight and that I was “promoting obesity”. His followers then went on to bully me for a month, leaving comments in my subsequent videos stating that I was fat (not in the neutral way fat people use this word), ugly, and should be ashamed of my weight. (You bet I reported him and all of his followers, because I do not put up with that crap.) But think about it, I was simply trying to inspire other people in fat bodies to be kinder to themselves. Yet the idea of people in fat bodies showing kindness and respect to themselves is so offensive, they tried to discourage me.
4. People in fat bodies are some of the most resilient, courageous, and kindest souls out there.
It makes sense that they would be. Almost daily, they are discriminated against for the size and shape of their body. Clinicians immediately prescribe weight loss as the only way to improve their health concerns. Friends, family members, and coworkers make comments about their food choices or the sizes of their meals. They work hard to prove to society that they do not fit within the stereotypes that people in fat bodies are lazy, stupid, undisciplined, and lacking willpower.
Many people in fat bodies have to endure years of bullying, mental and physical abuse, discrimination, and even self-hatred. They know what it is like to not feel appreciated or cared for by our society. Yet every day, they show up for themselves. They continue moving forward, working towards their goals. They treat others with an immense amount of kindness, because they understand the pain that comes with being mistreated for not fitting into society’s expectations. It takes a lot of courage and resilience to move about this world in a fat body.
5. Finding body neutrality is a long, hard journey…but is so worth the effort.
Whether you live in a fat body or not, finding body neutrality is hard work. You have to constantly challenge the external messages telling you that your body is not good enough. There are tons of diets and products out there marketing to you that they have the “solution” to all of your problems. Influencers share “what I eat in a day” videos that promote one way of eating as the “ideal” way of eating. “Before and after” photos provide us with the visual “proof” that if we really tried hard enough, we could reach our ideal body shape. Celebrity moms are able to get back to their pre-pregnancy weight within a matter of weeks. I mean the list goes on and on. It’s not surprising at all that many of us feel like our bodies are not good enough.
I completely understand the struggle, because I spent the majority of my life hating my body. Years of weight stigma and bullying taught me that my body was not good enough. Unfortunately, the worst of the insults came from me. I was so incredibly mean to myself, because I did not believe that I deserved better. Luckily, in college, I met a group of friends that made me realize that I did in fact deserve better. They helped to show me the beautiful, courageous, intelligent, and loving person that I am. So, I made the decision that I was going to learn to love myself.
It has been a LONG thirteen years since I started my body neutrality journey. There are still days that I look in the mirror and do not love my reflection. The difference now is I know, that even on my worst of days, my body still deserves respect. I still deserve respect. When I have these thoughts, I am able to challenge them head on with kindness and compassion. Body neutrality does not necessarily mean you have to love your body every moment of every day. Rather, body neutrality means doing your best to treat your body with respect, kindness, and compassion even on the worst of days.
Starting my body neutrality journey is one of the best decisions I have ever made. I know how hard it can be to do it alone, which is why I created my private Facebook group, Finding Food Freedom. If you want to start your body neutrality journey (or have started it) and realize you need more support to get there, feel free to join my group using this link. You do not need to take this journey alone.