I’m fat. This is not an insult or a putdown; it is a statement of fact. I’ve never understood people who try to use it as an insult either against me (um, yes, I own a mirror AND I know what size clothes I buy, thanks), or against women who are demonstrably not fat at all. How do you insult someone with a physical trait they don’t even possess? It makes no sense! Well of course it doesn’t – it’s not designed to uncover an awkward truth, it’s designed to chip away at someone’s self-esteem and make them feel bad. I’d like to put my name down for the campaign to restore ‘fat’ to its status as an adjective.
I just want to talk about what it feels like to read and listen to what passes for discussion about health, fitness and beauty as a fat woman.
I think we should prioritise health and fitness above some weird ideal of beauty – it’s what I try to do in my own life. I’d rather focus on how far I can run than on whether I’m wearing smaller jeans. But it’s a fact that once I get above a certain weight, my fitness suffers. This may not be the case for everyone but I have particular problems with my feet that get worse the more weight I put on them. The problem is, that’s a vicious circle – it’s harder to exercise when my feet are playing up, so I put on weight, so my feet get worse.
So while it’s great to have slim women telling people on my behalf that we should all be promoting body acceptance and ‘fit at any size’, I think it’s easier to say that when you don’t have any experience of what it’s like to be fat and fit, or fat and unfit. I understand the impulse to be supportive, but I don’t always find it helpful.
But as much as I hate people telling me that I’m fine no matter how fat I get, I think I hate the flipside – the anti-fat brigade - more.
I don’t mean people who hate fat because they’ve always been told that skinny is best and they haven’t got the imagination to see beyond that. Karl Lagerfeld’s jibes about Adele just confirm what’s obvious about the fashion world – they’re not interested in women being interesting human beings, they’re interested in clothes hangers. No, I mean the ‘fat is unhealthy so you should lose weight for your own good’ group, who are so apparently concerned with my welfare that they think it’s acceptable to dish out diet advice. Usually outside a pub, with a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other.
It’s striking to me that my healthiest friends don’t talk to me about my weight when we have conversations about fitness – they ask if I’m exercising and how; what kind of things I eat to make sure I get a good balance of nutrients – but they don’t focus on my dress size. That comes from an entirely different group of people. People who think that fat is so reprehensible it is to be avoided at all costs.
I disagree. Apart from the fact that you can be fat and healthy, just as you can be slim and hideously unhealthy, if we’re going to provide a free healthcare system (and I think we should) then it makes no sense, moral or practical – to then put caveats on which people ‘deserve’ treatment or help. What if someone injures themselves saving people from a fire – definitely worthy, right? But then it turns out they’re a convicted tax-dodger, and the injuries they sustained in the fire were made worse by years of heavy smoking. What now?
It’s easy for examples like this to get into the realm of the ridiculous, but the point is a simple one – you can lower your risk factors for certain diseases and illnesses, but you can’t lower your risk factor for dying. We all have to do it, and living a certain way is not a guarantee of health. Life is unfair and some people are born conditions that will wreak havoc with their health, no matter what they do.
It makes sense to do what we can to keep ourselves healthy, but all of the factors are not in our control. I’m privileged to be able to afford to eat well – lots of fresh vegetables – and live somewhere where I can walk outside. My fatness is down to a love of several high-calorie foods, and avoidance of high-impact exercise. What it isn’t is an outward sign of laziness or an invitation to comment on my choices.