Saturday, May 28, 2011

It's not a dirty word.

It’s not a dirty word.  Fat.  FAT!  We give this word so much power; we allow it to wound us and shame us.  I fear it is the most terrifying word for many of us and for our daughters.  You could sling any slur at me when I was a teenager, but if you wanted to truly silence me with hate, all you had to do was call me fat.  Sometimes this is still true.

I use the f-word (not that one...duh) in my blog title because I think it is attention-getting and catchy.  A few people have rightly complained about it, my husband not least among them.  After all, during his long devotion to me he has been on the front lines of my battle with my weight.  He continues the effort to help me love and honor myself; calling myself fat for all the world to read seems counter-intuitive to these efforts.  Also, the title admittedly makes it a bit tough to tell all your friends about it.  On the bus to a race starting line, a friend of mine enjoyed a conversation with a fellow-runner.  She met a mom running her first half-marathon that day.  She was, like me, not built like an olympic athlete.  By the end of their conversation, my friend thought she might really enjoy my blog.  But she couldn’t exactly say, “Check out my friend’s blog, “The Fat Marathoner!”  It’s for runners just like you!”

Fat ain’t friendly.  I get it.  The word is ugly, and we still shy away from it.  I suppose that is part of why I’m not yet ready to surrender it.  I’m hoping to demystify it, decriminalize it, disempower its negative oomph.

Let’s put this in perspective.  Fat is food.  Fat is a macronutrient.  Fat feeds our brains and gives us our curves.  A healthy woman is 20 to 25% fat.  How can we hate a quarter of ourselves and live whole, healthy lives?  I am no longer willing to run from the word fat, nor from the innumerable fat cells in my body.  They are not my enemy.  Sometimes I have too many of them--and, truthfully, too many of them can be debilitating.  I will remain an enemy of obesity, but I’m done confusing obesity with the fat the exists on my frame.  Most of it belongs there.

Women, will you join me in taking a stand against all those messages we get out in the big, bad world that teach us to hate ourselves, to desperately want to change ourselves?  Let’s take the energy we spend running from our own fat and use it for something else.  Sign up for a Run for Congo Women 5k (July 31st in Denver) and raise some dough for a fiercely good cause:  Find out how you can take a stand against female circumcision with The Female Genital Cutting Education and Networking Project:  Inform and humble yourself by learning how rape still wrecks lives too damn much in this day and age:  Pick an enemy deserving of your wrath, ladies.  Love yourself.


  1. Hmmm... some random thoughts in response:

    Here in Nepal, telling someone they're "fat" is telling them they look healthy, fit, & wealthy enough to afford good food. That said, on several occasions I've found myself giving young men here pointers on ineffective means of complimenting/impressing/hitting on foreign women... (they don't seem to pick up on the cold responses very quickly ;).

    Personally, I have a hard time imagining using that word about a person without insinuating obesity. (Coming from IN, with the 3rd worst obesity rate in the USA, I wouldn't dream of using that word to describe you). But I agree: We need to help people get over a facade of what "health" is about & move on toward balanced lifestyles & wholeness as the goal.

  2. PS: Please make sure you put up web links here & on Facebook for how to sponsor you in the Run for Congo! It's a great cause that receives very little attention in the west.

  3. Reg'g the Run for Congo Women...will do. Reg'g. "balanced lifestyle & wholeness", I'm with you. A new understanding of shalom seems relevant: more than a lack of conflict, it is the flourishing of people(s).

  4. Amen! May each of us grow in choosing & experiencing that kind of shalom each day.

  5. I meant to post a comment on this earlier but was sidetracked by a string of busy days.

    Anyway, the other day I was sitting with Millie on the couch and she snuggled up to me, patting my tummy and telling me I was "so cozy and chubby!" My first response was a flash of amused indignation. I don't really think of myself as chubby, for one, and I wondered too if I should explain to her that it's not really socially acceptable to go around telling people they're chubby. I know it's part of my job as her mother to teach her what is and what isn't acceptable in the ways she interacts with the people around her. And yet....

    I laughed and she became indignant herself. "What's so funny about that?!" she demanded. "'Chubby' just sounds funny," I said, and she giggled. "I guess it does." I asked her what she thought it meant and she explained it as "soft and puffed out." And you know what? My tummy IS soft and puffed out...chubby. You learn something new about yourself every day, I guess.

    I decided just to thank her for the compliment. I do hope no one is offended or hurt if she ends up calling them chubby or plump (another favorite word of hers...I think this might have something to do with books like Little House on the Prairie and The Secret Garden, where they're always used in conjunction with a pleasant and healthy appearance), but I just couldn't bring myself to teach her, even in the name of not offending someone who might be sensitive regarding their shape, that some shapes are okay and others are not. If she has made it to almost six years old in this society still believing that roundness and softness are signs of health and comfort, who am I to ruin that for her? Because she's right. Anyone who would use her words with hate, as an insult: they're wrong.

    It does bring me to my point, though. I want for my daughters to pursue active and healthy lives. I never want them to worry about pursuing a particular shape. I want them to recognize the value and beauty of people of all shapes, including their own. Not to hear "chubby" or "plump" or "fat" as words that are negative or hateful. And yet, we're having to fight an awful lot of pressure and propaganda from society at large to teach them that. Any tips?

  6. I'm working on a response, eBirdie. Be patient with me while I work my way from wide ramblings to a keen response:-)

  7. I've given up on a brilliant, pithy response. Here are my wide ramblings. Sorry for the unwieldy length, eBirdie.

    Let me begin by saying I was hoping to rely on you for tips in this arena:-) My little girl is just 2, so she still lives in blissful oblivion regarding body image. In fact, she delights in running around as naked as I allow. I hope this stage remains indefinitely (the blissful oblivion, that is, not necessarily the naked part). What have you discovered impresses or shapes Millie's ways of seeing herself? Any big mistakes or happy successes you can share?

    I love Millie's familiarity with a sense of health in round cheeks and strong limbs that has grown out of her beloved stories. I don't think Soren (a 5 year old boy) will read all the Little House books, though I hope he'll try one, but maybe Oliver Twist or even A Christmas Carol will acquaint him with a sense that bounty is a blessing we should be thankful for. Empathy for a hungry child may powerfully silence worry about staying skinny. And yes, my concerns regarding body image are on my mind for my little boy too (though it is less of a minefield).

    My main message for both kiddos is gratitude, balance, and health. Sometimes that surfaces in a conversation about being happy with what mommy prepares for dinner rather than whining about it. At other times, I shower them with compliments so that they will hopefully internalize my voice; I think I need to enhance this by questioning them about what they think about themselves so that we can begin a two-way conversation. My oldest might be ready for questions like, "So what do you think you're good at?" or "What's your favorite thing about yourself?" Let me mention, we love to acknowledge the ways they look like us or have inherited or mimicked our habits and mannerisms, as well as some of their completely unique attributes. They are both delighted by these connections and distinctions. I hope it gives them a sense of identity as an irreplaceable member of our family. Finally, we have explicit conversations about nutrition, the drawbacks of too much or too little, the connection between food (energy) and strength/health.

    To be continued...

  8. Continued...

    These are words and messages we try to convey, but I suspect that our actions are making deeper, longer-lasting impressions. Our kids see both of us work out, make healthy choices, make unhealthy choices, opt to restrain or indulge for various reasons. They see me put in hours to be ready for a race. They see me build friendships with others based on running. They know I have ups and downs. They see me have confidence; they hear me being honest with myself. Elanor sees me in various levels of undress and she understands that my body is healthy and attractive, if a little lumpy and soft in spots. Our kids hear Gene call me beautiful; they see us hug and hold each other, our bodies a point of appreciation and connection. My old sense of shame about my body (a warped and defeating situation) is one I am so proud to have addressed so that I don't pass it on; I haven’t banished it completely but I believe I am setting a good example of self-acceptance. I've become a healthier eater, so they see the pleasure that can be had from great, natural foods. Sometimes we eat junk, but they know why we limit it; Soren enjoys making a healthy choice almost as much as he enjoys an unhealthy one:-)

    eBirdie, you are an example to me of spending time with food, making preparation an enjoyable activity not just a chore, familiarizing your children with actual foods, not just boxes and bags and tubes that contain food-like products. I see hospitality, wisdom, and pleasure intersecting in a healthy way in your family’s relationship to food. Regarding activity, your family engages in adventure, exploration, and play so that your girls experience the intrinsic rewards of movement and action. Thank you so much for modeling all of this so well. I consider you an example to follow in order to better step away from thoughtless consumption of various stripes.

    But I’m avoiding your main question: what room do we give social mores? How do we prepare our children to shrewdly understand the world around them while remaining innocent of it? Ummm...I don’t know. Like you, I am currently choosing to isolate my kiddos from a lot of media’s messages about beauty and bodies. Ellie will observe of me, especially when I am getting dressed for the day: “Mommy, you’re big.” I respond, “Yes, Ellie. I am big. I am a grown-up; I’m a woman.” I haven’t shushed her or explained that sometimes Mommy is sad to be big. Yet. At the museum this week, she pointed at a large woman and said, “Mommy, she is a woman.” In contrast, Ellie calls herself a “lady.” Apparently, little equals lady and wide equals woman. Sheesh.

    I hope that if either of my children creates an awkward moment, I’ll be willing to bear it. If they hurt someone’s feelings, I would rather address the hurt feelings and how we can try to heal them (apologize, show kindness, and make up for it) than the broken vision of beauty that necessitates it. For now. Maybe when they are 9 or 10 or 13 or 14 I’ll tackle body image, media messages, and self esteem more directly. More likely, I’ll address these issues when they are 9 and 10 and 13 and 14 get the idea. Since you’ll be walking that path too, will you promise to keep me informed of your developing thoughts and discoveries?

  9. Thank you for this. Such a multifaceted discussion and one that I agree needs to be ongoing...

    You touched on it, and I think one of the most important ways we can model body love and self acceptance to our children is in our attitude regarding our own bodies.

    As for the choice between protecting our girls' innocence and preparing them to meet society with understanding and sensitivity...I am simply glad enough innocence in this area is still an option that, like you, it's what I will choose for now.