I used to think I look fat in this picture.
I’ve been fat my entire life. The reason I know I’m fat is that people have been telling me so since I was a child. At school, riding my bike down the street, and even at home, people constantly felt compelled to let me know that I was a fatty. Some comments and name-calling were meant to be mean. Others, while intending to be helpful and caring, were unknowingly cruel in a deeper way. The things they said having a profound effect when it was given by people I loved and trusted.
When I look back at those pictures today, the reality of the situation confuses me. I would hardly call myself “fat” at that time in my life. I wasn’t skinny by any means, but hardly worthy of the attention I received. I want to blame Twiggy for my pain. The super skinny model nicknamed for her build, became the "Face of 1966" when she was 16 years old and weighed 112 pounds. This radically changed the ideal body type for everyone from curvy Marilyn Monroe to stick straight Twiggy.
The beauty ideal went from curvy to bony in the blink of an eye.
I went on my first diet when I was in fifth grade. I remember eating lots of cottage cheese, tuna, and melba toast. I'll never forget the school nurse taking me out of class every week to weigh me on the scale in her office to see how many pounds I'd lost. The short walk down the hall back to the classroom was mortifying, knowing everyone was expecting a report of how I’d done. I can still see the linoleum tiled floor of that hallway in my head.
When I was in my 20s, I read “Fat is a Feminist Issue” by Susie Orbach, and it changed the way I think about being fat. I found a paper I wrote about the book recently while cleaning out my attic, and it reminded me of when I became a fat activist.
This book helped me see how fat people are discriminated against and shunned for not fitting into the ideal mold of how women are "supposed" to look. It helped me recognize the hypocritical messages and misinformation we receive around food and see the weight control industry for the scam it is. Most importantly, it taught me not to be ashamed of my body and to learn to love myself no matter what size.
These stores only carries sizes 5, 7, and 9, so I knew I wasn't welcome there.
I got angry. I fantasized about taking down the exclusive 5-7-9 clothing stores. I got loud about body positivity. I learned more about the weight control industry and got mad that we pay them billions of dollars a year to shame us into losing weight with plans that go against our biology and don’t work. (In the United States, we spent $70 billion in 2018, and this amount grows every year.) I started to own my hefty power.
I remember the exact moment I turned it around and stopped being shamed for my size. I had picked up my little brother after school, and we were sitting in the Burger King parking lot eating and talking. It was the first thing I’d had to eat all day, and I may have been a little “hangry.”
A gaggle of skinny, blonde girls got off a school bus on the corner, and while they walked past us, they started making oinking, piggy sounds. I had enough. I started my car, revved the engine, and drove after them with a vengeance that scared the daylights of them and my brother.
Of course, I wouldn't really have run them down, but their screams and terror in their eyes said they didn't know that. Hopefully, they thought twice about doing something like that again. The most interesting thing about that experience is that people stopped saying those kinds of things to me after that day. Maybe the homicidal gleam in my eye makes them think twice.
I'm still angry. I tried to write this article a couple of months ago, and it was much too fiery. I'm angry about stupid diets I've let myself be pressured into. Drinking disgusting grainy liquids that ended up stealing the joy from my life and making me feel punished for eating food. I'm angry with people who are cruel, with the best intentions, of course, thinking they know what's best for me and my body.
I'm angry at the way I'm treated, dismissed, and ignored because my weight is seen as a weakness of my character. Just last week, as I was getting ready to go on stage for an event I was MCing, someone I know walked up to me and said, "Hi, big girl." It took everything I had not to throat punch her. I was angrier about the “girl” than the “big” but still. I guess I know how she categorizes me now.
MCing on the big stage!
Not everyone is destined to be skinny, and that’s okay. We need to figure out what works for us and our bodies and not get swept up into the latest diet craze. I could nearly be a nutritionist for all I’ve researched and learned the diet du jour, only to find out later it wasn't entirely accurate or really that good for me. My goal is to make peace with food and listen to my body.
I had an experience lately that woke me up to the wisdom of my body. I was in line at the grocery store when I happened to see a ghost from my past out of the corner of my eye. The minute I saw this person, I started shaking uncontrollably. This was disappointing because I thought I had made more progress than to let a sighting affect me that way.
I told my friend Janet Federico, an expert on trauma and co-teacher of our Picking up the Pieces class, this story. She told me, “That wasn’t your mind, Jill. That was your body’s reaction to the situation." At that moment, I realized just how much our bodies have a mind of their own. It was a fight, flight, flee response from the ancient limbic part of my brain. My body was protecting me while my brain was still trying to make sense of the situation.
I started thinking about how horrible I am about listening to my body, limping through the pain and ignoring all the signals it tries to send me to tell me what it needs. Through dieting I’ve taught myself to ignore hunger pangs so intensely, I’m having to teach myself to gauge when I’m starting to get hungry, rather than waiting to eat until I’m absolutely out-of-control famished.
To work on this, I’ve started literally asking my body what it wants. Sometimes out loud. When I’m thinking about what I want to eat, I ask my body, “What do you want for lunch?” The answers have been surprising. It isn’t always ice cream. Sometimes it’s tuna salad with chopped tomatoes and toast points.
Since I’ve started doing this, I’ve lost a little weight, but that's not my focus. By loving and trusting myself, I’m making lasting peace with food and my body. Now that I'm learning to own what works for me, I'm finding that the weight loss I’ve been fighting with no lasting success since I was five, is happening naturally.
Because I'm using intuition to care for my body, I started thinking of this as intuitive eating and looked it up online. To my delight, I found a book by a dietitian/therapist and a nutrition therapist called “Intuitive Eating.” They’ve taken the ideas I’ve just started to play with on my own and have perfected it over many years to help people create healthy relationships with food, mind, and body. It is life-changing.
I want you to know, if you’ve been riding the diet roller coaster, it is not your fault. You’re not failing. “Diets” defy our body’s biological fight to survive, and this survival instinct is much stronger than willpower. When we starve our bodies, whether through a diet or famine, metabolism slows, and our body starts craving carbohydrates, its preferred source for quick energy. This explains why we can’t lose weight no matter how little we eat and why carb binges happen before we even know what hit us. Our bodies are protecting us.
I’m just starting to experiment with Intuitive Eating and am about halfway through the book. It’s going to take a minute to figure out how to let go of the warped dieting habits I’ve learned to pay attention to what works for me. I know it won't be easy, but I’m cautiously optimistic this is what I've been looking for all along.
Please understand, I'm not in this to lose weight. I'll always be thick and proud. I am very comfortable in my skin and confident of my cuteness. As part of my voyage of self-discovery, I'm learning to listen to my inner wisdom and trust myself. Unpacking the baggage of weight and letting go of old ways, will strengthen the most important relationship in my life, the one I have with myself.
I’m excited to share more about this journey in hopes that it helps you too.
Love your wise body,
The Finishing School for Modern Women, located in Wichita, Kansas, offers classes to help women find their authentic selves; not because we need finishing, but because we’re never finished. We bring together women of all ages, to learn from experts and each other, how to claim our power in business, finance, communication, and life. To learn more about our live classes visit https://www.finishingschoolformodernwomen.com or https://schoolmodwomen.com/ for our online classes and free social membership.