I met up with my friend Charlotte the other day to pick up one of her Black Heart Creatives necklaces while she was in London. We sat on the ground outside a pub and chatted about life and business, and since she’s the manufacturer of the very popular Fat Bitch necklaces, we naturally talked about being fat. We both agreed on one thing: for a long time, we’d believed that if we were thin, we would have no problems. We’d be happy all the time, everyone would fancy us, we’d wear what we wanted and nothing would ever be wrong.
When I was in the rooftop pool in the spa in Bath the other week, I reported something similar to my boyfriend. ‘For a long time I was about 2 sizes smaller than I am now’, I said. ‘When I was that size, I would have seen someone wearing the bikini I’m wearing right now, at my actual fattest, and thought to myself that I’d wear something like that if I was thinner’. And I remember being let off work early one day last summer and deciding to go to the BFI to see The Apartment. As I watched, I thought ‘if I was thin, I would have short hair like Shirley Maclaine’.
It seems kind of perverse, then, that I’m at my happiest while I’m also at my fattest. That I’m making the kind of decisions now that I used to claim I would make if I was thin.
How did I change my mind? People ask me all the time, ‘how did you get to be so confident? How did you learn to love your body?‘. Every time I try to think a little deeper but I just keep coming back to the same thing – it’s community. It’s not about validation, it’s about support.
Good support networks and communities have meant that I was able to reposition my perceptions. The only reason I thought I had to wait ‘until I was thin’ to have short hair or wear a bikini or believe that partners would find me attractive (and weren’t trolling me) was because those are the basic-level messages fat women receive. A body ‘worthy’ of a bikini is universally marketed as something you have to punishingly workout to achieve every spring in time for summer. Magazine column inches are dedicated to explaining why you should stay away from short hairstyles if you have a fat face. So putting myself in situations where the dominant discourse was one of positivity and productivity rather than shaming and hatred was what I needed to break out of that habit of deferral.
The single best thing I’ve been able to do for myself is to find friendship groups where mainstream messages about beauty and gender roles and bodies are challenged. I can’t blame the women who tireless repeat diet rhetoric, completely saturated in notions of guilt, shame, deserving, undeserving, punishment because they’re only doing what they’re told by a culture that wants women to be as thin and unobtrusive as possible. But I can elect to limit my contact with them.
I limit my contact with body-negative folk, and instead choose to put time and energy into relationships with people who I’ve literally never heard complain that they’re having a ‘fat day’ or shame someone for their food choice in a restaurant or base their value-judgement of a person on whether they’ve lost or gained weight. I don’t even need a radical fat environment in which to merrily do my thing – I just need people around me whose life motto is something other than ‘you can never be too rich or too thin’.
But a lot of this development hasn’t even been in ~real life~: the internet has been indispensable in my journey towards not-giving-one-single-fuck. There was writing like Kate Harding’s. There was Tumblr. There are conversations on Twitter, where most of my meaningful fat-community friendships have been made. There were blogs by women I have always admired. We’re now at a point where we’re having *hopefully* meaningful conversations about white supremacy and reproduction of mainstream beauty standards in much of the fatosphere, and I really, sincerely hope that one day these online resources can be as useful to / representative of all fats as they were to me as a young, white Western woman who used to be right at the bottom end of plus-size.
So anyway, now that I’ve told you how I got here, back to my original point: I didn’t need to defer my happiness until I was thin. I will almost certainly never be thin, but likewise I am absolutely certain that I’m happier with my body now than I’ve ever been. I am lucky to have this confidence and happiness and support carrying me through my days: it feels like life is a video game and I’ve got a cheat code that means I get to deflect all the lies and bullshit that drag fat people down.
But really, it’s not about cheating the system. It’s about creating a system of our own. Different standards on which to operate, new demands, new considerations, new ways to keep ourselves and our friends safe. I know I’ve been lucky in being able to find spaces to keep myself going, and I really hope anyone who needs it can find one of their own.
Here is me and my fat, pale, pasty arms raising a glass of Skåne Akvavit. I think I was just drinking it for something to drink, but let’s pretend I am saying ‘cheers!’ to everyone who’s making the world a more body-positive space.