The Other Closet

Belly flab got you down? Try Jazzercise!
Ok, Venus, we’ll call this the “Before”

There’s nothing like losing weight to show you just how fat-phobic the world still is.

“I’m so glad you’re losing weight, because you’re such a pretty girl.”

“My god, you’re wasting away! Congratulations.”

“Look at you, you skinny Minnie. There’s nothing left of you!”

When does this story begin? Does it begin when I was eleven, and sprouted D-cup boobs overnight? I resisted wearing bras for the attention they brought from the bra-snapping boys. My best friend would joyfully poke my boobs and call me “Mt. Everest.”

Or does it begin in high school, before I knew about photoshopping, when we all wanted to look just like the Delia*s models, when I used to pull the cheese off my pizza at lunch and eat just the crust and a diet soda?

What about ages 18-21, when I gained about forty pounds, lost a long-term boyfriend, and crash-dieted myself back to “attractiveness” post-break up? (Eating 20 Weight Watchers points per day was doable, so why not try ten. Never mind that fat-free American cheese has about a million chemicals and no grams of protein.)

And what about all the months of gain and loss and gain since then? Months where I ate mostly Lucky Charms and boxed mac ‘n’ cheese from the corner store; months where I just drank Red Bull and ate a single meal each day.

Pages and pages in old Moleskin notebooks filled with grocery lists and calorie counts. “In my next kitchen,” I wrote once, “I will have only these foods.” There were seven of them. It all adds up to whole years wasted thinking about what to eat or not eat, with the weight always on its way back threefold.

There’s this amazing moment in the movie Bachelorette (a highly underrated movie) where Kirsten Dunst’s character is talking about working with twelve year old children with cancer. “Can you even imagine?” She says. “I mean, twelve, that’s when it happens. That’s when you start to hate yourself.” My body, my desires — it all got tangled up in a big ball of badness when I was thirteen. And I’m not alone. Every self-respecting woman and girl over ten in this country hates their body, right?

We’re certainly supposed to. If we don’t have the body of that ten year old girl who models for Vogue, maybe with boobs stapled on, what right do we have to love our own bodies? Even “normal,” healthy bodies are not worthy of being shown on television or in print; and if you’re overweight, forget about it. Fat people are lazy; they lack willpower, and they certainly shouldn’t be wearing or doing anything that signifies that they are proud of or happy in their own bodies. These are things we are told all the time, in so many different ways, from every direction. Roll your eyes, but it’s true.

Then just over a year ago, after a few months of exponential weight gain following a period of bulimia-induced weight loss, I made a decision.

I wish I could say that I was ready to reject the body hatred because I was more enlightened, because I realized once and for all that my self-worth came from within. But in fact, it was a logistical decision. I had spent the past twenty years hating my body, and it had made me fatter and fatter. The epic clusterfuck of dieting and bingeing just wasn’t working. So I decided it was time to try something else. It was time to fake it til I made it — to behave as if I loved my big, fat body. So that maybe I could finally lose some weight.

How I did lose the weight isn’t really important. I lost a substantial amount, and the “transformation,” as they call it, was illuminating. Not because of what I learned about my body, but because of what I learned about the people around me.

The feedback I started getting once I began losing weight was…astounding.

Yes, I was healthier than I used to be. But when people (coworkers, friends, people I hardly know) talked to me about the changes in my body, which happened far more often than it should’ve, it was never from a perspective of health. Instead, it dripped with the fat-phobia our culture has developed. Fat phobia, I might add, that has not helped us to become healthier as a nation.

Of course, there are were people whose compliments came from a place of support. When my mom told me I looked great, it was because she could tell I was happier, and healthier. The messages I received from the general public, however, come from a more conflicted place. Co-workers would compliment my weight loss, only to immediately launch into a bashing session on their own bodies — you’re doing so well! Not like me, I’m turning into the Pillsbury Doughboy, I just blew up over Thanksgiving.

Those people assume, and for good reason, that talking in these ways will be a bonding experience between us, that chitchatting about our common enemy — our bodies — will be an easy way to connect. They assume this because in most situations, with most people, it’s true. Women relate to each other by complimenting each other and putting themselves down.

But once I had made the decision to act as if I loved my body, it was something I just couldn’t participate in any longer. Once I stopped speaking to other women in those terms, I started to realize just how insidious — and how absurd — those conversations were.

Bonus: Learn how to not be a dick when people lose weight from Queer Fat Femme.

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