I also understand my rather awkward position in talking about this as someone who’s always been on the smaller end of fat by Western standards but pretty much on the opposite end of the scale in the Indian subcontinent. The face (rather body) of bopo looks closer to my own than that of people who bear the brunt of fat prejudice. However, when fat prejudice succeeded in destroying my life, it wasn’t because I suffered from disordered eating and body image issues. It was because the size of my body made me an outcast in the society I grew up in and continue to live in today. I still can’t walk into a doctors and expect treatment instead of prejudice, and when I want new clothes I have to resort to tailoring or shopping online, that too from stores outside India. If I wasn’t lucky enough to meet my fiance, I would have resigned myself to a lifetime of stoic loneliness considering how Indian men have never seen me as anything other than a fat joke. Outside the romantic context however, I’d still be trapped under societal expectations about the size of my body had it not been for fat acceptance. Some of it, obviously, is stuff I can’t change. I can’t make plus size clothing magically appear in shops, and I can’t make the medical profession take off its fatphobic lenses and see me as a real person. But I can call out doctors on their bullshit now and demand the treatment I need because fat acceptance has given me the confidence to do so. I still get the stares and the comments that I always have when I go out of the house but I’ve learned to not let them affect my everyday life. I managed to cut off all the toxic friends and acquaintances who saw my body as a receptacle for their fat hate. I’ve set clear boundaries with my remaining family, who in turn have learned to not bring up my fat in conversation, ever.
Fat acceptance hasn’t changed the landscape I have to survive in, but it gave me the tools I needed to navigate that landscape and make something of myself while doing so. Over the years, I’ve been more than aware of my unique position as someone who’s outsized in real life but physically closer to the ‘acceptably curvy’ ideal that’s turned the online and predominantly Western body positivity movement into a farce. It’s one of the reasons I avoid speaking on the subject, because unlike the majority of ‘bopo influencers’ I’m acutely aware of the need for people who are fatter than me, more marginalised than me to be visible in the community. The reason I’m writing this today is that I feel I have something useful to contribute to the discourse rather than just saying ‘hey, my size 18 body is okay too!’ I know my body is more or less acceptable in the online community I’m writing this for, I know that I’m not shunted aside for my size the way very fat people are. But I’m not writing this from the perspective of an online-only persona, I’m writing this as someone who continues to stick out like a giant thumb in a population of rather petite humans, someone who very literally was saved by fat acceptance.The morality of food
Related to this is the concept of ‘good’ or ‘healthy’ food as opposed to ‘bad’, ‘sinful’, ‘unhealthy’ food. Although I spoke about eating badly just now, I used it to mean not eating as regularly as I should for the sake of my gastric ulcers. The first few years of my fat positive journey were mostly spent in unpacking and mending my relationship with food. Eating disorders can happen to anyone, at any weight, but in my case it was inextricably linked to hatred for my fat body. To heal my relationship with my body, I had to stop looking at food through a moral compass of pure vs. sinful, and allow myself to eat whatever I wanted and whenever I wanted it. These days, when I admonish myself for eating badly, it’s because I’m skipping meals in favour of work and popping ulcer meds to counter the pain. Morality doesn’t come into it, acute, physical stomach cramps do. Back in my early 20s, when I mentally sorted food into morally opposed categories, it wasn’t because of any imperative towards health. I keep thinking about a journal entry from late 2006 in which I wrote: “It’s not even about being healthy anymore. I stopped caring about health a long time ago. I know what I’m doing is not remotely healthy but I don’t care about that. I just want to be thin.” ‘Healthy’ food was just the stuff that I thought would help me lose weight, even when that meant living on watered down soup and apples. Most of my health problems these days are a direct consequence of those years of starving myself with supposedly healthy food when I was young enough to feel invincible. The contemporary trend of ‘wellness’ with its juice ‘cleanses’ is no different from the soup diets of the 2000s. Both have a single, unified goal, which is to banish the existence of fat, and consequently, that of fat people. Because the so called health concerns of being fat are seldom about health - it’s about the value of thinness in our societies and how well we can perform thinness in public.Inside the cocoon
Before I was a pothead, I was just fat, nothing other than fat. It was all I knew about myself. Sure, I was smart, articulate, and kind, but mostly I was fat. Back then fat wasn’t the neutral term I see it as now. It was the defining curse of my existence, the stigma I could never shake off even during the worst of my eating disorder. But once I started thinking of myself as a stoner, that’s what became my defining feature rather than my fat. Outside my smoky cocoon, the rest of the world faded to white noise. I dropped out of my MA within the first week with no plans for what I was going to do next. All I knew was that I had to fix my head before I could emerge as a fully functioning person instead of the one dimensional being that fatphobia had turned me into. I spent close to two years detached from everyone I knew except close friends and family, and in that time I started reacquainting myself with the body I had and figuring out ways to thrive in it. Even though I’d always been drawn towards pretty clothes, I’d rarely had the confidence to wear anything that didn’t disguise my shape. Accepting my body as it was opened the doors to a thrilling new world that I’d never believed could be mine. I never believed I could wear a sleeveless dress in public until the day I screwed up my guts and went out in one. People stared and passed remarks as I’d expected them to, but with 2 years of fat acceptance to prop me up, being called a fatty didn’t devastate me the way it once did.
By the time I went back to uni in 2010, I was actively calling myself fat, and inspired by The BMI Project, tagging my fashion photos with ‘obesity epidemic’ on Flickr. Without the self assurance that fat positivity had given me, I’d never have had the courage to pack up my bags and move halfway across the world to start anew in a place where I didn’t know a single soul. Like I said earlier, I don’t know what the trajectory of my life would have looked like in the absence of the ‘fatosphere’. Those first three years of self renewal and remaking are the foundation stones of who I am today. It’s because I’d found that corner of the internet where it was okay to be fat that I was able to normalise the idea of being a fat person and living as one, rather than a secretly skinny individual who just happened to be ‘trapped’ in a fat body. That was crucial. Recognizing that as fat people, we are individuals in our own right, and that skinny isn’t some default state of being that we have to aspire to.Finding mindfulness
In the last few years, I’ve found myself looking inward a lot more than I used to. Taking pleasure in the quiet things, introspecting more and saying only what needs to be said. I feel like I’m finally conscious of actually living, of being a living, breathing, thinking creature that’s conscious of existing in every moment. I no longer feel like I’m careening abruptly through life, with no clue as to where I’ll end up next and how. I don’t think I could have found this inner quietude had I not spent all this time trying to inhabit my corporeal self as fully as I could. And that’s why the bopo line of ‘intentional weightloss is fine if you’re doing it to love your body!’ strikes me as utter garbage. If I was still trying to push change instead of accepting it as it comes, I’d still be chasing an arbitrary goal, feeling unfulfilled and incomplete, ever so slightly hollow. I started out to accept my body in all its fatness, so far on the way, I’ve discovered mindfulness. So before I conclude, here’s the 4 point version of my guidelines to living a fat positive life.
1. I will not diet or practice intentional weightloss. Instead I will focus on eating intuitively and continue to rebuild my damaged relationship with food.
2. I will not be critical of anyone else’s body, especially when that person has less body privilege than I do. Neither will I engage in any kind of body shaming or weightloss talk, but I will shut down instances of such talk when I encounter it.
3. I will not conflate weight with health but I will try to be kind to myself and look after myself the best I can with the resources I have.
4. And lastly, I will not let my body stop me from doing whatever it is I want to do. I will live the exact same life that I would if I was thin instead.
That’s what it is condensed down to its core: living the same life I would have if I was thin instead. Loudly, aggressively if I need to, demanding my space when I have to. No less boldly than if I were thin. And certainly not waiting until I was thin. When I think of my fatness now, I relate pretty strongly to this quote from Michelle Allison. It is completely arbitrary to me because it doesn’t affect any part of my life outside of others’ reactions to my size. And I’ve learned not to expend much thought on those reactions - a key contribution from my fat positive ethos. The day I realised my life was happening in the here and now is the day it began. Without fat acceptance, I’d still be waiting for it to start, just as I was waiting 10 years ago.