I happened upon a HuffPoLive interview with women who talked about what they considered the benefits of being fat. I will admit right away that I have a tough time wrapping my head around it but I want to understand this perspective. I’ve always remembered many years ago when my weight loss was still fairly recent, that a woman asked me if I felt diminutive and weakened. She explained that she felt her size gave her a sense of power and presence. My take on it was completely the opposite. I had felt physically limited when I was fat. After losing weight, I had greatly improved my physical ability and no longer harbored a dread of certain situations like finding myself faced with a flight of stairs or a room full of narrow chairs with arms. I used to experience anxiety over whether I’d have to stand or walk longer than I’d be comfortable or even able. After I lost weight, those limitations and worries were completely gone. The woman perceived physical size as the source of power; I see physical ability as power.
Women in the HuffPo interview expressed similar attitudes. One spoke of feeling like being big meant being larger than life. She was a big woman with a big personality. She felt that being big amplified everything about her including her emotions and passions. Another expressed the corollary, that losing weight and becoming smaller made her feel less significant.
A commonly-shared belief was that being fat confers a sense of invisibility and safety. I am familiar with the idea that some women believe that being fat will protect them from unwanted attention and that women who’ve suffered violence may deliberately gain weight to construct a literal barrier to the world. But women in the interview spoke of a kind of convenient invisibility, expressing an appreciation for being able to go about their business in public with a feeling that no one is paying them any mind. They laughed about being on the train in sweats with messy hair and no makeup and liking the freedom to be completely comfortable. I honestly don’t get this at all. I can go out in sweats and messy hair (I usually cover it with a cap) and no one pays me any mind. When I was fat, I was very mindful of when I’d get those looks. If I were sloppily dressed, I’d expect that strangers seeing me would think that I was the stereotype of the fat slob. The unfortunate truth is when you are fat, you get noticed more by fat haters who want to look down on you. When you are an average weight, you can blend into the scenery without sticking out.
I notice now when fat people are getting those looks on the bus or train. I will catch plenty of rolling eyes and looks of disgust from strap hangers when a fat person is taking up more than one seat. I will also notice that, almost invariably, that person will not make eye contact with anyone. I will look around at the stares of disdain being directed at the fat person and I will think of my past life when I would have been grateful to have a seat and not have had to stand for a half hour or more on a rush hour bus. I would have kept my eyes down too.
It isn’t fair, it isn’t rational but being fat means you will be judged all the time by lots of people and not always by just those we think of as the most biased, shallow, and hateful. When you are fat, our culture does not let you forget it. I had to lose weight to be able to speak for myself and stop my fat speaking for me.
Your last sentence rings so very true. I think it captures the essence of the entire conversation about fat, size, weight, acceptance.
You’re always fat first. You can’t get away from it. The bias extends to people being shocked if you’re fat and well-educated. They don’t want to believe you could possess any qualities of discipline or commitment and they sure don’t want to believe you’re intelligent.